Man flying in jetsuit

Future flight: air travel after a pandemic

Image credit: Rich Cooper

Could we soon be making a return to air travel and how will it differ from pre-pandemic times?

Remember airports? Or boarding passes and safety demonstrations? How about luggage conveyor belts, security checks or even sunny beaches?

It’s been at least a year and a half since most of us took a flight anywhere. Instead, we’ve been visiting virtual exhibitions, attending online conferences or making video calls.

Organisers have got better at doing them and we’ve learnt to get along with them out of necessity, but they don’t always beat actually being there. And you can’t actually get sand between your toes or really experience another culture without immersing yourself in the real thing. We may not miss business travel too much, but we sure miss those foreign holidays.

Lockdowns, closed borders and quarantines have hit the airline business hard over the last 18 months. How has it survived at all? How has it adapted? As we emerge slowly from the pandemic lockdown, we look at what shape the business is in and what happens next.

International air travel will bounce back in time, but will it ever be the same again? As well as new competition from the virtual experience there’s a more pressing, bigger problem for air travel: carbon footprint. It’s a lot harder to fix than in other modes of transport. Chris Edwards works through the kerosene conundrum, while Praharsha Anand checks out one possible electric fix. The market for air taxis is growing, with new entrants jostling for position. Hybrid-electric planes using vertical take-off could be landing in your city soon, where there’s no space for runways but there are helipads, car parks and rooftops. Paul Dempsey looks at the contenders. Meanwhile, in our news, a flying car has successfully completed the first-ever inter-city journey.

Could the future of flight be more exciting as well as more environmentally friendly? We take a look at the longer-term future, too. Humans have dreamt of bird-like flight for millennia. Now there are some real flight suits in serious development.

Aerospace technology is forever moving forward, and the next big thing in fighter aircraft is integration to streamline everything for the pilot – or to fly without a pilot. Find out how the engineers working on the futuristic Tempest fighter are borrowing from games console developers to design the next generation of fighter aircraft from the inside out.

While aerospace technology marches forward, the passenger experience doesn’t necessarily always keep up. Half a century ago you could cross the Atlantic in just a few hours, in style and on the engineering landmark that was Concorde. Is the time now right at last for a new supersonic plane? Can the industry overcome the supersonic boom and the carbon problem as well as the cost problem? We dare to dream.


Image credit: Graphic News

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