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The future of aviation


Flying cars, supersonic planes and spacecraft are staples of travel in science fiction. In popular media from the Jetsons to Star Trek, these methods of transport have shaped our ideas about everyday life in the future. And while it initially seemed like such technologies were relegated to the realm of the imaginary, huge developments in aviation are bringing these flights of fantasy ever closer to reality. Join us for a look at the future of aviation and passenger experience.

The future is green

An artist’s impression of a high-speed futuristic plane flying over snow-capped mountains
An artist’s impression of a high-speed futuristic plane flying over snow-capped mountains

It’s a well-known fact that many of the technologies we rely on today – particularly those involved with transport – are environmentally unsustainable. Flight emissions are one of the many culprits that contribute to this problem. The European Commission has gone as far as referring to aviation as “one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions” and we’ve seen a marked trend towards more environmentally friendly flight technologies, with one of the most promising developments being the production of electric aircraft that don’t emit harmful carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide gases.

Peter Palensky, Professor for Intelligent Electric Power Grids at the Delft University of Technology, believes electric passenger planes are a real possibility in the near future. Palensky feels the prevalence of lightweight and ultra-light aircraft today is already a step in this direction and that an “[electrically-powered] city-to-city trip… might be reality in the not-so-distant future”. Exciting concept planes from Airbus and Eviation Aircraft could be part of everyday air travel sooner than we think.

CityAirbus

A shining example of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft technology, CityAirbus looks to be the realisation of a science-fiction fan’s dream. This futuristic concept by Airbus is designed to be an unmanned electrical aircraft, capable of transporting up to four passengers around the city. Due to its VTOL design, the CityAirbus can easily propel itself from building to building, offering an alternative to land-based urban transport.

Eviation Aircraft

Israeli start-up Eviation Aircraft seeks to address the short-range regional market with their fully electric aircraft. This sleekly-designed, nine-passenger plane will primarily operate in the 160-970 km range, with the ability to travel even longer maximum distances. It’s a stylish new eco-friendly addition for those seeking to arrange a private jet charter.

The future is automated

An artist’s impression of a futuristic airport with futuristic aircraft circling above
An artist’s impression of a futuristic airport with futuristic aircraft circling above

The aviation industry has experienced steady growth in recent decades. Pascal Traverse, Cockpit R&T Program Leader at Airbus, estimates that “the global commercial aviation industry will need some 600,000 pilots in the next 20 years”. This poses a problem, seeing as there are significantly fewer pilots currently in service.

Automated pilotless aircraft could provide a solution. Concept planes like the CityAirbus and Eviation Aircraft are both designed to be pilotless; however Traverse explains that “it is not so easy to teach a machine to take into account all that many variables”. For this reason, Bjorn Fehrm, Industry Aviation Expert at Leeham News, suggests that “a ‘back-up pilot’ [needs] to be there in case something unexpected happens”.

Interim solutions may include “one-and-a-half” pilot aircraft, in which a human co-pilot assists an artificial intelligence (AI) pilot while the technology reaches maturity. If the rate at which driverless vehicle technology has evolved is anything to go by, though, we’re likely to see some significant developments in this area before long.

The future is fast

Long travel times are a frustration shared by many. Imagine the convenience, for example, of flying from London to New York in under four hours. This is exactly what NASA and Denver-based startup Boom are seeking to achieve with their new supersonic and hypersonic plane concepts. These aircraft are designed to break the sound barrier at spectacular speeds of Mach 2.2 – more than twice the speed of sound.

This wouldn’t be the first time passenger aircraft have surpassed the speed of sound. The Concorde travelled at a maximum speed of Mach 2.02 – around 2,180 km/h, but ceased operating in 2003 due to its high cost and being limited to ocean crossings in an effort to prevent sonic boom disturbances in urban areas. NASA seeks to reinvigorate what the Concorde started, addressing these issues through new aircraft technology.

The X-Planes are a series of future aircraft designed by NASA that seek to overcome the sonic boom. It’s speculated that the first X-Plane, known as the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD), will enter the test flight stage as early as 2021. Following a $20 million contract with Lockheed Martin in 2016, the agency has already been testing the Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) aircraft as a preliminary model of the LBFD X-plane. According to NASA, the LBFD “will rely on a swept wing design in order to fly at supersonic speeds without producing a sonic boom”.

Flying in one of these aircraft will still fetch a high fee, though: a round trip from San Francisco to Tokyo comes with a projected price tag of $5,000. This is significantly less than a seat on the Concorde, which was available at a price of $20,000, but might still be too expensive for widespread adoption.

The future is convenient

A passenger using a futuristic airport terminal
A passenger using a futuristic airport terminal

The latest aviation technologies mean passenger experiences are becoming ever-more convenient. Wireless connectivity allows passengers to enjoy a personalized experience, with in-flight entertainment continuing to transform.

Companies like Panasonic and Thales have both unveiled systems that allow passengers to use their mobile handsets to control the aircraft’s built-in entertainment facilities. Transavia, a subsidiary of KLM, and Australian carrier Qantas have also begun testing virtual reality (VR) as a new form of in-flight entertainment. This new technology can also help to calm those who are afraid of flying. Clearly, our in-flight experience will become increasingly comfortable as time progresses.

The future of aviation is exciting. What we only imagined just a few years ago seems to be closer than ever to becoming a reality. Soon flights will be faster, greener, more convenient and more comfortable. In the meantime, contact us here to charter the best private jets the world currently has to offer.

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