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A look at aviation in 2040

“I remember coming down here as a child, we had to put our hands over our ears because it was so noisy!”


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What do we associate with airports?  The roar of the aircraft, the dragging of suitcases, the check-in queues, the anticipation of security and the departures lounge, no seats, queues, some cheeky last-minute purchases that you deserve because you’re on holiday… the hustle… bustle and perhaps a little bit of stress?

Looking ahead to 2040 your experience will be quite different.

Your journey starts with a tap of your smart phone as you choose your destination from the comfort of your home.

You hardly notice checking-in, your phone recognises your biometrics. The airline and airport know you and now prepare to welcome you.

Your luggage is taken from your house ahead of you by a secure autonomous vehicle (AV).

Your luggage has an RFID tag (radio frequency identification device) with your unique details and it stays with the bag always. At any time the bag’s location is known down to the last metre… no more landing in Paris with your baggage in Bangkok!

Another passenger AV arrives at exactly the right time to whisk you away to the airport. It knows the route, the short cuts and whether there are any hold ups, and it gets you to the airport at the time you wish. Naturally you can choose to allow for some shopping time, or grab some food, go for a drink… or else just head straight for the departure gate. 

It’s fascinating to watch the AV glide off to pick up its next passengers – never a wasted journey, and the frustration and stress of parking is confined to the history books. When the AV doesn’t have another immediate ‘fare’ it takes itself off to be recharged. The recharging station works in both directions, an AV can be charged or it can operate alongside the other vehicles as a very large battery pack providing power back to the local grid thereby smoothing out the peaks and troughs in the local electrical supply and demand. 

You’re dropped off at the departures hall entrance, you wander through to security and present yourself. Your biometrics are recognised as you walk through. Your hand baggage is automatically scanned as you walk. Then you laugh when you think back to the days when you had to take off your shoes and belt. How funny was that?              

Your smart phone pings to remind you of the table you booked for lunch. But there’s no rush; it lets you know that you have more time as the airport concourse isn’t busy if you take a particular route it has mapped for you.

Lunch is great. But your satisfaction increases during coffee when a very cute robot delivers directly to you the exclusive new jumper you had pre-ordered from Woolly Bling Ltd!

Now you’re set to walk to the gate, knowing how much time you have and the best route that will take you past some of your favourite stores, that are conveniently updating you with some offers they have specifically for you.

Now for take-off, or ‘the launch’ as it’s sometimes called. Recognising that aircraft engines are noisiest when taking off, it’s time to use the catapult instead of using engine power. This quiet system sends the aircraft on its way without having to use the noisy jet thrust of days gone by.

You settle into your seat.

“This plane sounds different, I can hardly hear it, are the engines turned on?”

Yes, instead of jet turbines your plane has electric motors, which create a fraction of the noise compared to an old fashioned jet!

During the flight, it’s interesting to watch the wings morph! We used to watch sci-fi movies where aircraft used ‘shape-shifting’ technologies. Here we are now watching the wings change shape in flight. Engineers have perfected design control surfaces that adaptively change the aircraft's wing camber geometry, so the aerodynamics can be altered to fly efficiently at all altitudes with the highest energy efficiency available.

The flight seems over all too quickly. But then again time flies when you’re online. It’s good fun to tease your friends with updates on your social media account with live pictures above the clouds.  Do you remember when your parents would moan about the limited in-flight movies and the lack of internet and email?  Of course next year’s holiday dilemma will be choosing between taking the short-haul flight or, opting for the Hyper Loop trip, decisions, decisions.  Then shortly after that you will have saved up enough for the space flight you promised yourself!

Landing is now so seamless too: once upon a time we used to get held up in a ‘stack’, gradually working our way closer to the airport through a process of thrust and glide. Now, with the interconnected air spaces our speed is regulated to ensure we arrive at the right time to eliminate stacking and the associated fuel wastage and noise creation. We glide in using the continuous descent technique: runways and taxiways are clear and ready and we dock at the allocated stand right on time!

You’ve arrived!  Your bags are brought to you by a friendly android. You certainly don’t miss the old scrummage at the baggage reclaim. You didn’t even notice as you walked through customs that you have been safely scanned and your arrival logged.

Looking around you, there’s so much to do here. You’ve arranged to stay at the airport for a few days then have a few days in the city. This place really is a Destination in its own right.

Effortless, seamless and joyful are the emotions that sum up the experience of flying in 2040.

Written by Tim Morrison, Aviation Director

Visit our Aviation Week web page here