Welcome to 2020, the year when we thought we’d all have flying cars and teleportation would be a thing. Clearly, Star Trek has a lot to answer for. Although fellow Trekkies may be somewhat disappointed by the lack of progress towards a planet-hopping future, there have been some awesome developments in aviation over the years. But what can we expect from the next decade? Here are my own personal predictions for what we could see in aviation by 2030.
1. The world’s markets will change
By 2025, China is predicted by IATA to overtake the US as the world’s largest air passenger market. India too will rise from its current 7th position to take third spot, while the UK market will drop to 4th, only just ahead of rapidly rising Indonesia.
Overall, the total number of air passengers will increase to between 5 and 6.8bn, depending on market forces, from the current level of just over 4bn. As the center of gravity of the aviation industry shifts east, we could see an increase in the number of Chinese and Russian built commercial jets in our skies, like the SSJ100 and the COMAC developed aircraft, shaking up the current duopoly of Boeing and Airbus.
2. Cabins will embrace the best of technology
With the rise in connected aircraft and satellite technology moving at a pace, we fully expect all cabins to be WiFi connected by 2030. Whether airlines have managed to make such technology free for passengers remains to be seen, but connected cabins can do a whole lot more for PaxEx than just keeping you scrolling through Facebook.
Earlier this year, Airbus began flight testing its IoT connected cabin technologies. This is basically a ‘brain’ which can be connected into by a bunch of other applications and systems, in order to change the way we travel.
Some of the tech being tested includes a passenger seat which can remember your ideal seat settings, a connected galley that automatically orders replenishments when the aircraft lands and a lav-cam that monitors queue waiting times for the toilet.
As well as high tech features, the cabin of the future will likely be a much more pleasant experience for passengers too. We’ve seen how OLED screens in ceilings can create a sense of space and wonder, as well as concepts that include viewing platforms and cargo hold beds. How many of these things come to fruition remains to be seen, but all are interesting thoughts for the future.
3. There will be no more first class
First class is becoming a rare beast, with numerous airlines removing the cabin in favor of larger and better business class options instead. In fact, it could be argued that business class has gotten so good, it is effectively replacing first in many cases. Even those airlines who are ionic for their first offerings are considering cutting out first class.
Although there might not be many (or any) flying suites around to splurge your cash and miles on, we do think there will be more division between the other classes. Some airlines have already floated the idea of ‘basic business’ – a fare class where we enjoy business class lie flat comfort, but without some of the other bells and whistles.
Premium economy is a massive win for airlines, but I predict more breaking up of seating classes in the future. I think we’ll see things like business plus, premium basic, economy extra and pure unbridled cattle class offering more fare choices and an increased unbundling of services.
4. We’ll fly longer, but not much longer
As ultra long haul becomes more popular, we’ll undoubtedly see more airlines taking up the mantle of operating the world’s longest flights. Project Sunrise, if it happens, will almost certainly see some competition, as will direct flights between other distant locations.
However, it’s important to remember that the majority of the airline fleet in operation today will be the same fleet we’re using in 2030. There are no new groundbreaking planes on the horizon (well, there’s the 777X, but it’s not that groundbreaking) so what you see is what you shall have. As such, there are unlikely to be any nonstop, round the world trips taking place.
5. Supersonic will be a possibility
With several companies eyeing a re-entry into the supersonic space, it’s likely 2030 will see supersonic being a possibility. However, it’s likely that these will be very few and far between, more of an elite privilege than a realistic way to get around.
Although the new supersonic designs on the table are looking to go one better than Concorde, they will still be massively expensive to operate and will necessitate a lower passenger capacity than the current long-haul workhorses like the A350. As such, ticket prices will be high, so while these aircraft might become popular with businesspeople and politicians jetting from one side of the Atlantic to the other, it’s unlikely they’ll disrupt the aviation market by any great degree.
6. Electric planes will fly, but only little ones
We’ve already seen how far Eviation Alice has come, with certification of the world’s first 100% electric passenger plane likely in the next three years or so. However, for anything larger than this, we’re unlikely to see much development in the next decade. As I’ve discussed before, the world requires a seismic shift in battery technology before anything larger than a commuter jet can be electrified.
However, what we could be likely to see is the hybridization of passenger jets. Already, Airbus is working on a project they call the E-FanX, which looks to replace one of four engines on a Bae 146 with an electric counterpart. This would reduce the demand of jet fuel substantially whilst in cruise and descent. Could this be applied to an A320 sized aircraft by 2030? Possibly.
7. Biometrics will be huge
We’ve already seen how biometrics are changing the airport experience, with the use of biometric boarding expanding at a rapid pace. The future could see this concept expanded even further, as our faces become our single token for travel from end to end. As the number of airline passengers increases, the way airports handle these passengers must also improve, and biometrics has the potential to smooth out and expedite the whole travel experience.
But it’s not just at the airport where we could see biometrics coming into play. Our recent interview with CellPoint Digital demonstrated how payment methods for flight and ancillary services are evolving, but we can think even bigger than that.
Perhaps, by 2030, we’ll be able to board completely paperlessly, using only our face as ID. Upon sitting in our assigned seat, we’ll be recognized by the onboard camera and shown a tailored selection of IFE based on what we watched before. Perhaps it will even remember if we prefer the chicken or the pasta.
8. Boeing will only make one new plane
So I’m not counting the 777X in this total of one, as we fully expect to see that particular bird take flight later this year. Looking ahead, however, I don’t think Boeing is in a position to launch more than one new plane in the next 10 years. But which one will it be?
For the longest time, the industry has been talking about the proposed NMA / Boeing 797. However, with Airbus already taking a bite out of the sales with its super long-range narrowbody A321XLR, Boeing could be more sensible if it instead turned its attention to the FSA – a replacement for the 737.
A clean sheet update of the 737 is desperately needed. It’s Boeing’s biggest selling product line, and has not been changed structurally since the 1960s. Focusing on an update to this end of the market would help Boeing get a jump on Airbus and a head start on the next generation of narrowbodies
9. Airbus won’t make any new planes
Airbus’ product lineup is pretty solid right now, and I don’t think they’ll be wasting their energies on any clean sheet designs at all in the next 10 years. Almost every sector of the marketplace is catered for, from the popular A220 for regional and long, skinny ops, to the fantastic A350, the aircraft of choice for the soon-to-be longest route in the world.
It’s likely Airbus will do what Airbus does best, and launch some stretched, shortened, ranged and neo-ised members of its current family. An A350-2000 perhaps, for those extra dense routes, or an A350neo for boosted fuel efficiency? The A220 stretch (A220-500) is firmly on the cards, and judging by the success of the A321XLR, could Airbus do the same to the A330neo too?
Overall, I think we’ll see some additions to the Airbus product line, but nothing brand new before 2030.
10. Air traffic control will be much better
This is more of a wish than a prediction, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that suggests we’re edging closer to more efficient management of our skies. In Europe, in particular, the European Commission recently agreed to work towards unblocking the Single European Sky, which would avoid much of the ridiculous rerouting that is necessary when one ATC area becomes overloaded or has workers on strike.
The rise in connected aircraft will also help traffic management move forwards, with projects like Iris from Inmarsat looking to revolutionize the way we manage movements in the skies. Not only will Iris and projects like it help airlines stop wasting time, it will also prevent unnecessary fuel consumption and therefore carbon emissions. Inmarsat’s Vice President Dominic Walters told me about the benefits of connectivity, saying,
“Connectivity, specifically around operational efficiency, can actually reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Our research with the London School of Economics actually found a $15 billion saving for the aviation industry by 2035 thanks to connected operations.”
Better connectivity presents a great opportunity for the world to clean up its air traffic management. With passenger traffic expected to double by 2037, it’s essential this is done right.
What do you make of my predictions? Do you have any of your own? Let me know in the comments!