1. Blue sky thinking
We have become used to the convenience of flying. Nearly 20 million passengers flew on domestic flights in the UK in 2015. But taking a flight has become so commonplace that we may have lost sight of how pioneering it once was.
When commercial flights began, they opened up new possibilities, revolutionising the way we do business and transporting us to new and exotic holiday destinations. Then the jet age offered glamour and excitement – both of which have worn off somewhat in today's era of budget travel.
2. Fantastic flights
Click to discover how some airlines already have their eyes on the future.
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Images courtesy of Spike Aerospace, KLM and Airbus.
3. New developments
This brave new world may be a long way off, but in recent years incredible developments have already taken place.
There have been major advances with electric planes powered by rechargeable batteries. Among them is Airbus’s two-seater E-fan plane, which has already successfully flown across the English Channel. The technology suits small craft at the moment, but commercial hybrid-electric passenger flights are planned in the future. These will be better for the environment and more efficient to run.
For similar reasons, airlines are investigating the potential of biofuels. Some have already flown using this alternative fuel.
Improvements have also been made to the construction of aircraft. Formerly built using aluminium, planes are increasingly cast in a lightweight composite material of carbon fibre mesh surrounded by a hard plastic resin. Lighter planes require less fuel ensuring these newer aircraft are better for the environment.
And developments have not been limited to planes – in 2016 we have already seen the return of the airship. The Airlander 10, which uses helium to become airborne, has been unveiled as the world’s biggest aircraft. Its British owners plan to use it for luxury commercial trips as well military and humanitarian flights.
4. Passenger experience
But what changes will passengers notice in the short term?
One of the biggest changes in the near future will be the disappearance of economy, business and first class as we know them. Instead, we’ll see new levels of business class, while economy class is likely to be offered at a variety of prices. Passengers will get the level of comfort they’re prepared to pay for.
Airlines are making economy as efficient as possible and we’re likely to see shavings off seat widths so more seats can be added. And even on budget airlines we’ll see more options for passengers to upgrade their level of comfort, such as buying extra legroom or booking the seat beside. We may even see more of “cuddle class”, introduced by Air New Zealand,which allows two adults to buy a third seat which can be turned into a couch.
We’ll also see pre-flight formalities such as checking in luggage become more automated, while our demand for 24/7 connectivity is likely to result in air-to-ground and satellite Wi-Fi becoming commonplace.
With so many innovations in store, it seems our love of flying will continue for many years to come.
5. Flights of fancy?
They may be the stuff of science fiction, but are these private transportation dreams becoming a reality?