What does the next 15 years hold for air transport? Will drones take us from the airport to the city? Will we be loaded into removable pods at the terminal which will then fit into place on the plane? Or sit above other passengers to take advantage of that overhead space?
Probably none of the above, but here are some new aero experiences that are definitely on the horizon. Let’s start the nuts and bolts with some exciting new planes that will soon appear in our skies.
LONGER, FASTER, MORE SOFT
Boom Supersonic’s Overture jet design.
The single-aisle Airbus A321XLR is the latest iteration of Airbus’ acclaimed A320 Family, and it’s a game-changer. With a range of 8700 kilometres, no other commercial narrow-body aircraft comes close.
Boeing’s 737 MAX 9, the latest version of the most popular commercial jet of all time, has a range of 6,570 kilometers while the figure for the MAX10, which is expected to enter service in 2023, is 6,110 kilometers. The A321XLR could fly from Melbourne to Tokyo nonstop, or from Brisbane to Honolulu.
In the northern hemisphere, this range would take the A321XLR nonstop between London and Vancouver, Tokyo and San Francisco, New York and Istanbul, and New Delhi and London.
This is a strong selling point since the A321XLR allows airlines to operate narrow-body aircraft on low-demand, long-haul routes where a twin-aisle aircraft may not be economical. Qantas has placed an initial order for 20 A321XLRs with an additional purchase option to replace its fleet of Boeing 737s and 717s.
And supersonic flight? Wouldn’t we love to have supersonic planes flying to and from Australia? Mach 2 flights would take us from Sydney or Melbourne to Europe in less than 12 hours, to the west coast of the United States in less than seven hours.
Denver-based Boom Technology is the most advanced of several manufacturers developing supersonic aircraft. Boom’s Overture is a 65- to 80-seat, four-engine delta-wing aircraft with a range of 7,867 kilometers that the company hopes to have carrying passengers by 2029.
But there are hurdles to overcome, including the requirement to fly at subsonic speeds over land, the limited number of passengers carried on board these pencil-thin planes, and the high fuel burn and emissions. of carbon they generate at high altitudes. This puts supersonic aircraft out of step with an industry eager to demonstrate its green credentials and a world that demands it.
TOWARDS A FUEL PARADISE
The commercial aviation industry is under immense pressure to do its part to limit its carbon emissions. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce predicts the airline will achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, with a 25% reduction by 2030.
But the only way to do that is to power the planes with something other than petroleum-based fuel. Sustainably produced aviation biofuel is an alternative, but biofuels are neither cheap nor available in the quantity required for a major shift in the carbon footprint of the aviation industry.
Hydrogen, however, is abundant, and burning hydrogen in a jet aircraft engine would produce zero carbon emissions. One way to produce hydrogen is through electrolysis, which requires electricity, and if that electricity comes from sustainable sources such as wind or solar, the aviation industry is well on its way to achieving emissions. close to zero.
However, a huge volume of hydrogen gas is required to provide energy equivalent to conventional aviation fuel, which rules out hydrogen gas as a source of jet fuel. By cooling hydrogen to -253°C, it becomes a liquid, massively increasing its energy density, and becomes a feasible jet engine fuel.
This requires a special fuel tank, which is why we won’t see commercial hydrogen aircraft for some time. Airbus hopes to have the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft in the air by 2035.
THE HEAT IS ON AND ON
Climate change hit Europe hard this summer and affected flights. Soaring temperatures have caused the surface of Luton Airport to heave, leading airport authorities to reconsider the way they construct runways. And because lift decreases as temperatures rise, planes need more runway to take off.
In Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, wildfires provided beach scenes with apocalyptic backdrops. In early May I was swimming in warm water in Sicily while Rome was uncomfortably hot towards the end of the month. Some are rethinking their European holidays, with a tilt away from Mediterranean Europe in favor of the Baltic.
Copenhagen instead of Rome, a Norwegian cruise instead of the Mediterranean. This summer’s heat wave was probably not exceptional. Anyone planning to vacation in Europe in the future would do well to avoid the Mediterranean during the hottest months of mid-June to late August.
A MAJOR CHALLENGE
A Boeing 777X takes off at the Farnborough Air Show in England last month. Photo: AP
Boeing’s 777X is touted as the ideal replacement for the much-loved 747, and possibly the Airbus A380 as well. In typical configuration, the twin-engine giant carries 426 passengers, about as many as a Boeing 747, although more than a hundred less than the A380 in a comfortable three-class layout.
Basically, its engines are more fuel efficient, and the 777X’s 15,185-kilometer range makes it an ideal candidate for airlines looking for an aircraft for busy intercontinental routes. Qantas was to be one of the first customers, but the airline opted for Airbus A350s and Dreamliners.
It is likely that Australia will see the 777X in the next few years wearing the livery of Middle Eastern and Asian carriers. Emirates has ordered 115, Qatar Airways 74 and Etihad 25, and Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and ANA are all on board. British Airways and Lufthansa are the only European customers, while no US carriers have signed up.
Originally slated to enter commercial service in 2019, the 777X has been plagued with delays. In May 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration informed Boeing that the aircraft would not be certified until mid to late 2023. Boeing pushed back first deliveries to 2025.
ONE OF THE MANY GIANT JUMPS
Coming soon non-stop flights from the east coast of Australia to the UK and New York. Qantas Project Sunrise flights have been a trophy dream for the Qantas chief executive for several years now.
The giant leap from Melbourne or Sydney to London requires a new aircraft type other than the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners the airline uses on its nonstop flights between Perth and London and Qantas has confirmed an order for 12 Airbus A350s- 1000 modified.
With a flight time of around 20 hours, the flight from Australia’s east coast to London will be the longest in the world, which will be a test of economy class travellers’ endurance. In the meantime, Air New Zealand will launch its own non-stop flights between Auckland and New York, which are scheduled to start on September 17, 2022.
In another first, and a convenient concession to economy class travelers on extremely long flights, the airline is offering to offer sleeper beds to economy class travelers. Known as Skynest, the bunk-style sleepers will be bookable in four-hour blocks on Air NZ’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, from 2024.
BONZA GAMBLES ON A BONANZA
Bonza’s first Boeing 737 MAX arrived in Australia earlier this month.
Australia’s aviation industry will soon see a new face when low-cost carrier Bonza begins flying, possibly as early as September 2022. Rather than competing with Qantas and Virgin Australia on the main east coast routes, Bonza plans to operate 25 routes through 17 regional locations such as Albury, Bundaberg, Coffs Harbour, Mildura, Newcastle and Port Macquarie. Melbourne is also on the list, but not Sydney.
From its home base on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, the all-budget airline will play into the leisure market, with prices comparable to those of Jetstar.
According to Bonza chief executive Tim Jordan, 80% of its proposed routes are currently unserved, while all but four do not have a low-cost airline on the route. Bonza’s all-Boeing 737 fleet will be financed by US investment firm 777 Partners, which already has a presence in the low-cost aviation industry with Canadian carrier Flair Airlines.
FIVE AIRCRAFT SOLUTIONS FOR THE NEXT 15 YEARS
If you have a dispute with an Australian airline, the arbiter is the Airline Customer Advocate which has been set up and is funded by the airlines, and that’s a complete joke. What is needed is an independent arbitrator appointed by the government.
In Europe, travelers are entitled to compensation if their flight arrives at its final destination more than three hours late. The same applies if your flight was canceled with less than 14 days’ notice.
FOLDING ECONOMY SEATS
How much easier would it be for passengers in window seats to access their seats if the seat bottoms flip up? Passengers in the same row could just stand and let them pass, as they usually have to step out of the row to let them pass.
MORE BANDWIDTH FOR WIFI ON BOARD
Several international carriers that serve Australian ports offer worldwide coverage, but data speeds can crawl if multiple users connect. Ka-band satellite broadband used by some airlines, including United and British Airways, is the gold standard.
A FAIR PLACE FOR A FAIR PRICE
A premium economy seat costs at least twice as much as an economy seat, but it only offers about 120cm of extra legroom and a slightly higher recline angle. How about an economy class seat that offers 50% more legroom for 50% more fare than economy class? I would pay that and the airline would get the same revenue per square inch.