The Airline Industry is going to go through a continued rise and then a fairly sharp decline over the next forty years. Peak air travel will occur around 2035.
The International Air Transport Association forecasts that the number of passengers transported by airlines will double by 2040 to around 8.5 billion passengers.
The rise in travel is caused by a surge in the number of people in Asia who can afford to travel internationally.
IATA forecasts from 2017 to 2037 the new air passengers will be:
China: 1 billion new passengers for a total of 1.6 billion
US: 481 million new passengers for a total of 1.3 billion
India: 414 million new passengers for a total of 572 million
Indonesia: 282 million new passengers for a total of 411 million
Thailand: 116 million new passengers for a total of 214 million
The Fall of Air Travel
China has built over 30,000 kilometers of high-speed rail but this network will be expanded through 2030. The total operating mileage of China’s high-speed rail network is predicted to exceed 50,000 km by 2030–2035, thus revolutionizing land-based travel.
China is developing faster versions of their conventional rolling high-speed trains. Most of China’s high-speed rail travel at 250-300 kph. The speed was for safety after a high-speed rail accident. However, safety issues have been addressed and China is increasing train speeds on different lines to 350 kph. China is developing two types of next-generation trains. One class of trains can carry passengers at a top speed of 500 kilometers (310 miles) an hour and cargo at 250km/h, with wheels that can adjust to fit different track gauges used around the world. They will use a hybrid-propulsion system that allows higher speeds. The hybrid propulsion systems will be driven by electrical power lines, backed up by batteries and diesel engines.
China is also developing maglev trains capable of 600 kph and speed will be increased to 1000 kph and beyond by adding evacuated tubes around the maglev lines.
The higher speed maglev and rolling high-speed rail will increase the competition against air travel from the 400-800 kilometer range up to 1500 kilometers. The short-haul flights will not just see 40% decreases because people currently often want to have their own car at their destination. However, low-cost robotaxis will mean that people will not need their own car. It will just be based on time and convenience. Three-hour trips with fast trains will kill air travel up to 1500 kilometers and even 1500 kilometers, except where there are significant water, mountain or other barriers without mitigating tunnels. This will likely cut China’s air travel to 40-50% of previous estimates.
Reduced journey time is one of the main reasons for passengers to choose HSR but there remains the issue of the amount of time spent before arriving the railway system.
In the next 15 years, there will be a relatively sharp shift to self-driving cars. This will be a sharp shift because of ride-sharing. If Tesla gets self-driving software working in their cars by 2022 then there would be 3 million self-driving cars available after an over the air software update. Ten million self-driving taxis would be able to handle over 95% of the rides needed in the cities in developed countries. If major roads became dedicated to self-driving cars then the safe driving speed could be increased to about 150-200 miles per hour. Most major highway will become like high-speed rail lines in terms of speed and the volume of passengers and cargo.
In China, high-speed rail and fast self-driving cars will ensure the nearly complete elimination of shorter air trips up to the three hour trip time. There will not be local delays.
Survey of the shift from flying for longer self-driving rides where no car is needed at the destination. (Rice, S., & Winter, S. R. (2018). To Drive or Fly: Will Driverless Cars Significantly Disrupt Commercial Airline Travel?. International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace)
5 hours – 74%
7 hours – 71%
11 hours- 54%
21 hours – 25%
Longer duration drives in North America at 150 mph would be eliminated with self-driving vehicles. Rest stops would be eliminated with self-driving vehicles. Recharging of electric vehicles would be needed. If the vehicles were fast buses then there would be toilet facilities. The vehicles would also be more productive with high-speed communication and comfortable seating. Superior amenities would further shift the choice of self-driving ground vehicles over air travel.
A self-driving car has recently set a speed record over 175 mph. Tesla electric cars will become self-driving and can reach speeds over 155 mph. The 2020 Tesla roadster will be able to reach speeds of 250 mph. The German autobahn has cars and truck regularly driving at 81 to 125 mph (130 km/h to 200 km/h).
In the USA and other countries without high-speed rail, the fast self-driving cars will eliminate short flights up to about 500 miles. This would be popular routes like Los-Angeles to Las Vegas or Las Angeles to San Francisco.
Elimination of Planes for Long-Range Travel
Starting around 2030, SpaceX reusable Starship rockets will start providing a replacement for long international flights. The speed will be increased twenty times. It will be anywhere in the world in one hour. SpaceX will be able to have 1000 people in reclined seating arrangements. The cost will be about $500-1000 per seat per flight. The key enabling factor is increasing the safety of rockets.
SpaceX success in this area would cripple the main financial strength of existing airlines. Business travel and first-class travel and international flights will be replaced with reusable rockets.
Airlines receive only about 60% of their revenue from passengers directly and the other 40% comes from selling frequent-flier miles to credit card companies. 60% of passenger consumer revenue, the big money comes from business travelers. Business travelers account for 12% percent of airlines’ passengers, but they are typically twice as profitable. Business passengers sometimes represent 75% of an airline’s profits.
If the air travel goes away for shorter and longer flights, then the demand for frequent-flier miles will also evaporate.
By 2060, the economics of the airplane industry will be crippled and the usage will be less than one-third of the peak level.
SOURCES- IATA, SpaceX, Tesla, International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace, Sustainability
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com