The future of flying

Travelling Well | Lucy Cleeve | Posted on 05 April 2019

What’s on the horizon for tomorrow’s air travellers?

Would you fly direct from Melbourne to London? By 2022, you could. Australians are well acquainted with the ‘long’ in long-haul flight, but improved fuel efficiency is helping to usher in the super-haul flight. 

Qantas recently revealed plans to add a 22-hour marathon journey to its timetable, which will make ‘Project Sunrise’ the longest flight ever. But it’s not just air time that’s set to change, airlines across the globe looking for a competitive edge are set to transform the customer experience too.  

Air passengers may soon find exercise equipment, virtual-reality relaxation zones, sky cafes and even creches on board. And while the pointy end will no doubt be infinitely more luxurious, a plane’s back half may become less comfortable for fliers. Watch out for space-saving measures such as non-reclining seats and even short-haul ‘standing seats’ to boost numbers in economy class. 

illustration of red plane flying against a blue backdrop

But despite many travellers’ focus on seating, passenger comfort is just one small aspect of flying. We look at some of the other ways air travel is set to change. The future of flying looks: 

Faster

Ever since the turbojet-powered Concorde was retired in 2003, travellers have wondered when a new supersonic craft might hit the skies. The Concorde halved flight times with speeds reaching twice that of sound. A US-based start-up, Boom Supersonic, is slated to start flying – and breaking the sound barrier – in 2023, making Melbourne to London a mere 10-hour journey. And if the current testing of hypersonic suborbital jets becomes a commercial reality, flights at the edge of space would reach speeds of 25 times faster than the speed of sound. So, Melbourne to London? A mind-blowingly quick 90 minutes.

Greener

It’s not just cars that are going electric, one day planes will be fully chargeable too. Experts claim that most short-haul flights are likely to be battery powered in the coming decades, transforming air travel and its impact on the environment. Norway has already pledged to go electric for all short-haul flights – of less than 90 minutes – by 2040. British carrier easyJet also has plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The budget airline recently announced a plan to develop a fleet of electric planes by 2030 for use on short routes such as London to Amsterdam.

Automated

The driverless car no longer seems so far-fetched, but how would you feel about travelling in a pilotless plane? Automated flight controls, or autopilots, have long flown and even landed planes without human intervention, and automation continues to grow in sophistication. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary recently predicted that autonomous passenger planes will become common in the next 40 to 50 years. Other reports say the technology is likely to be available much sooner than that, but that it may be our human hesitation holding things up. 

Watch this air space...