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Top 10 Innovations That Could Change How We Fly

VO: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey
From the fantastical to the already-trialled, these ideas could transform commercial air travel. Welcome to MojoTravels, and today we're counting down our picks for the top 10 innovations that could change how we fly. For this list, we're looking at concepts, patents and works-in-progress that could really change the experiences of passengers.

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Top 10 Innovations That Could Change How We Fly

From the fantastical to the already-trialled, these ideas could transform commercial air travel. Welcome to MojoTravels, and today we're counting down our picks for the top 10 innovations that could change how we fly. For this list, we're looking at concepts, patents and works-in-progress that could really change the experiences of passengers.

10: Detachable Cabins

The wait times in airports can sometimes seem interminable. An airplane’s turn-time on the ground reduces airline profits and taxes passenger patience. So in 2013, European aircraft manufacturer Airbus filed a novel patent to streamline passenger boarding: a removable cabin module. It means passengers could be seated at the gate, then lowered down into the plane. It isn’t the only proposal calling for detachable cabins. Inventor Vladimir Tatarenko has designed ejectable cabins with built-in parachutes . . . although few seem to consider the idea cost-effective. Hey, where’d everybody go?

9: Convertible Seats

Alright, you’re on board. Now buckle up, sit back . . . and stuff your knees in your face because there’s no damn room. Airplane seats continue to shrink in so-called “cattle class” . . . and some manufacturers have patents for even more claustrophobic quarters. But new seat designs mean the iron curtain between travel classes could one day crumble. Award-winning Hong Kong startup Paperclip Design is developing these “Butterfly Seats” that can be converted into Premium Economy and Business Class - although the upgrade will still cost you. There is more hope for coach in the form of Recaro’s “Flex Seats”, which slide on rails to increase leg space when flights aren’t fully booked.

8: Affordable Internet Access that Actually Works

Ah the miracle of flight. We often take it for granted . . . especially when the wifi won’t work. When market leader Gogo introduced wifi on commercial flights in 2008, their network relied on air-to-ground cell towers, which worked a lot better when only a few people had smartphones. Nowadays though, inflight wifi is often as frustrating as it is expensive. Fortunately, there’s good news on the horizon. Gogo and competitors are rolling out satellite-based services that promise much faster speeds. It’s a gradual process, since aircraft all have to be upgraded. But slowly, slowly, we’re getting there. Buffering . . .

#7: Green Planes

Even in the air, we leave behind a heavy footprint. Globally, aviation accounts for about 2% of total CO2 emissions. However, coming years could see a significant shift toward greener technologies. For airlines, a reduction in fuel consumption is a win-win situation, cutting costs along with emissions. Aurora Flight Science’s D8 “double bubble” airliner concept features an aerodynamic fuselage to generate additional lift and burn less fuel. Other cutting-edge designs are exploring the possibilities of solar power, or electric and hybrid engines as in the case of Boeing’s conceptual SUGAR Volt. Biofuel is another alternative, and airlines including Virgin Atlantic, Boeing, and Air China have already conducted successful tests.

#6: Cargo Holds for Relaxation

You’ve watched all the inflight movies, and there are still hours to go. Can we just land already? Fortunately, the future promises a lot more to do on long flights. Airbus hopes to transform
cargo holds into relaxation compartments, complete with sofas, beds, and bars. There could even be work spaces and children’s play areas. Even more ambitious is their Concept Cabin featuring a central room that can host video games, business meetings . . . and of course, a bar. Basically, Airbus really wants you to have an inflight bar. And we aren’t against that.

#5: Supersonic Flights

Who loves long flights? Anybody . . .? Yeah, we didn’t think so. There’s the struggle for shut-eye for starters, and close quarters with complete strangers. In the near future though, flights could become much faster. The supersonic Concorde, retired in 2003, guzzled down fuel, and could only be flown over water due to the deafening boom in its wake. But thanks to advances in fuel efficiency and noise reduction, supersonic planes could soon return to the skies. In partnership with Virgin Galactic, startup Boom aspires to debut their supersonic business jet in 2023, and aircraft manufacturer Aerion, backed by Airbus, in 2025.

#4: The Flying Doughnut

We have to face forward in rows on airplanes, right? Otherwise, how would we . . . what would happen to the . . . what if . . . well, there must be a reason. Yet, Airbus doesn’t seem to think so. In 2014 the manufacturer filed a patent for a radical new aircraft with broad wings that sweep back from behind the nose, and circular seating inside around a central point. The structure would reduce stress at the front and back of the fuselage from cabin pressurization, and allow more space inside. Mind you, Airbus files hundreds of patents a year - but who knows? Flying doughnuts might be in our future.

#3: Spaceflight

Space: the final frontier . . . for commercial travel! It might sound like a pipedream. But Virginia-based Space Adventures has already flown seven private clients to the International Space Station. And, despite some significant setbacks, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are both hoping to roll out commercial craft for suborbital and orbital flights in the near future. Their passengers may one day visit inflatable space hotels launched by American startup Bigelow Aerospace. Some hypersonic planes could also graze the edge of space, allowing passengers to experience a brief period of weightlessness, and reducing transcontinental flight times to just a couple of hours.

#2: Smoother Check-Ins

Sometimes just getting to your gate can be a hassle. Then there’s actually getting on the plane. But airports are experimenting with new technologies that smooth out the process. Some are trialling facial recognition in place of boarding passes - speeding passengers through check-in, baggage drop-off, and immigration. Also being tested are 3D CT scanners for screening luggage, which could one day void the need for passengers to remove items such as liquid and electronics from their carry-ons. So get ready to say hello privacy concerns, but maybe goodbye long line-ups.

Before we reveal the identity of our top pick, here are some honorable mentions:

Self-Flying Planes

Inflight Virtual Reality

#1: See-Through Planes

Afraid of heights? This could be your cure, through exposure . . . or the worst thing that ever happened to you. Airbus’ Concept Cabin features an interactive cabin wall that can turn transparent, providing a panoramic vista of the clouds below and stars above. Ditching real windows could make the fuselage both lighter and stronger. It’s a concept that’s also been (literally) floated by the Paris branch of Technicon Design, whose IXION windowless jet concept displays the view from external cameras on the inside walls. For now, it’s just an idea. But one that we’re pretty excited for . . . just as long as they don’t make the floor transparent.


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