Commercial planes we see and fly on today are in fact structurally similar to those dating back to as early as the 1960s. However, due to technological acceleration and ongoing discoveries, changes in aviation are emerging, and we can expect radical functionality and design shifts over the coming decades.
Since the very first plane took off, aircrafts have been powered by aviation fuel – typically gasoline or kerosene. According to the European Commission, airplane emissions are responsible for a collective four percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, a figure projected to grow. Aside from this, the concern of fossil fuel supplies is ongoing as oil is estimated to deplete in the early 2050s.
Experts in the aviation field are turning their attention to electric-powered aircrafts to combat this issue, which many view as the future of aviation. Not only will energy efficiency improve and carbon emission output drop, but noise pollution will also reduce. Until now, the aviation industry has aimed to offset its fossil fuel consumption by planting trees, yet the introduction of electric planes will combat the environmental problems caused by carbon emissions.
Norway’s aviation industry is spearheading this by targeting only electric powered short-haul flights on all its planes by 2040. An issue is that no passenger planes of that type have yet been built and the experimental phase remains in its infancy as electric-powered aircraft projects begin to gain global momentum.
In another move to improve aircraft efficiency, windowless planes could be a new design feature in planes of the future. Emirates is leading the way with its windowless Boeing 777-300ER first-class suite – whereby images are streamed directly onto virtual windows via fiber-optic technology from inside the cabin. From the exterior, the airplane appears as having no windows. Although airlines are still toying with the idea, there is still a requirement to install windows for emergencies for crew to view outside conditions. In terms of safety, structural compromises are reduced as the aircraft has less breakage points. It also reduces the plane’s weight, so it can fly at greater speeds with better fuel efficiency. This could provide a solution for faster journeys.
It may sound surprising, but commercial planes today are flying at similar speeds to those of the late 1960s, due to engine efficiency. But, as a new wave of air travel evolves, supersonic passenger planes could become a reality – that is aircrafts traveling at speeds of up to 1,451 mph, which are already in the late stages of development. Taking it a step further are hypersonic aircrafts, uber-fast planes with the capability to reach dizzying speeds of 3,800 mph. Such planes could be functioning within the next 20 years.
Hand in hand with functional upgrades, a redesign of the on-board passenger experience has been influenced by new technology and the need for airlines to differentiate from competition. Already we have seen design upgrades with the Dreamliner, an aircraft with enhanced contemporary interior, larger windows than any other commercial plane and with smart glass to allow for light level adjustments, and an advanced cabin air-conditioning system for improved air quality.
In the coming years, aircraft could undergo several changes to overhaul the air travel experience. The latest Crystal Cabin Awards showcased innovate forward-thinking designs at the peak of creativity. Winning concepts include the hammock headrest – fold-out wings in which to rest your head; the introduction of a lifestyle cabin whereby instead of classes, social areas will be in place; a fold-up seat for additional leg room; and a self-cleaning toilet for the highest standards of on-board hygiene. In addition, in-flight entertainment will most likely experience improvements in the form of high-definition streaming and better WiFi connectivity.