Past and future of air travel


  1. Introduction
  2. As it was
  3. How will
  4. Conclusion


Civil aviation is a relatively young business, which is only now beginning to really actively develop. Since their inception, airlines have always been under severe pressure from the state, imposing taxes, taxes, and also requiring compliance with security measures.

Humanity is terribly afraid of flying, which is why aviation has some of the most stringent safety requirements. This, by the way, is one of the clear confirmations of human psychology. It is easier for us to be afraid of something big and terrible, which we do not fully understand. Airplanes are just that. If you don't believe me, try asking yourself or others a simple question: how does an airplane fly? Then ask Google.

Airplanes remain one of the safest modes of travel. In recent years, the number of passengers carried annually around the world has been tending to 3.5 billion people, or more than 9 million people per day. And here are the statistics of accidents with planes with fatal outcomes for passengers. Data from the ASN (Aviation Safety Network) profile organization:

Past and future of air travel

On average, from 2010 to 2017, 349 people die in plane crashes annually, and an average of 3.2 billion passengers fly. It turns out that the probability of dying is 0.00001%. For example, the probability of dying from a meteorite accidentally falling from the sky is 0.000063%, so I can advise everyone who is afraid to fly to look at the sky more often. The trouble can come from where they did not expect.

Another good example is the statistics of the World Health Organization, that every year 646 thousand people accidentally fall to their death, and 37.3 million manage to flop so that then medical attention is needed.

However, of course, crashing from a fall from the toilet (the calculated figure is about 4,000 US residents annually) is much more prosaic, there are no breaking news about it, and the event itself does not cause as much gossip as the crash of one airliner. On the other hand, it is possible that if ordinary people were treated as much by safety rules as airlines, the result would be different.

As it was

One of the most serious constraints for the aviation industry was the standard that has been in effect since the 60s of the last century. Twin-engine aircraft were prohibited from staying more than 1 hour from the nearest airport.

Past and future of air travel

It was believed that in case of a breakdown, you can stretch a maximum of 60 minutes on one engine. Because of this restriction, airlines were unable to fly the optimal route, resulting in excessive fuel consumption, longer travel times and higher ticket prices.

The 60-minute limit came from propeller aircraft, while now, according to statistics, for 1 jet engine failure, there are 117 engine breakdowns with a propeller. However, officials did not care about such trifles. Например, глава FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Лин Хелмс в 1980 году заявил топ-менеджменту Boeing, что скорее ад замерзнет, чем он снимет это ограничение (It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let twins fly long-haul over-water routes). Due to such a principled position, the geography of flights was severely limited, and the route across the ocean looked like this:

Past and future of air travel

Of course, aircraft manufacturers tried to get around the ban. At first, they began to use aircraft with 4 engines, but these giants did not take root, as they turned out to be terribly gluttonous and huge. The Boeing 747 accommodated over 400 people in a typical 3-class zoning or 660 people with a single seating area. Accordingly, such flights could only be launched on the busiest routes, such as, for example, New York – London.

Past and future of air travel

Boeing 747

The next step was the design of the 3-engine aircraft. They did not fall under the ban and could safely fly across the ocean:

Past and future of air travel

However, the current situation irritated both airlines, aircraft manufacturers and passengers, therefore, reluctantly, officials in 1985 issued the first permission for direct flights across the ocean, developing the ETOPS certification system.

ETOPS stands for Extended-range Twin Engine Operational Performance Standards, or Rules for the performance of extended range flights for aircraft with two gas turbine engines. Another unofficial decoding of ETOPS quickly appeared – Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim, which can be translated as 'either the engines are working, or the passengers are swimming'.

ETOPS certification has become the industry standard. For example, a Boeing 767 received permission to fly 180 minutes from the nearest airport.

Past and future of air travel

The first aircraft to be ETOPS certified. 180 minutes with a burning engine is not a problem

It should be understood that the ETOPS rating is not only additional requirements for the engine, but also a different approach to organizing the internal systems of the aircraft so that the airliner can fly on one engine. However, in addition to changes in hardware, ETOPS is also a change in service standards.

All airlines have listings of airports where they can make an emergency landing. For example, when flying from Shanghai to Los Angeles, at some point the only suitable alternate airport is a huge airstrip in Alaska left over from a military base. But it's not enough for an airline to fly there and land a plane. In the town of Cold Bay, where the strip is located, there are only a hundred residents, so there will not be enough hotels or cafes for the passengers of the liner to stay. Accordingly, airlines have a set of instructions on how to deal with such situations. First, there is always more food on board than is needed for one flight, so that passengers can be fed a couple more times. Secondly, a plane with technicians for repair immediately flies to the place, and the nearest partner airline sends a replacement plane to the nearest more civilized airport, from where passengers will continue to let them continue to their destination.

Airplanes have come a long way today and are receiving ETOPS ratings, allowing them to fly around the world. For example, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is entitled to 330 minutes of flight on one engine. It was the ability to fly on one engine to almost any airport that became the main factor that started to change the world of aviation.

How will

With the ability to fly freely without the obligation to have a spare airport close by, a lot has changed. If earlier airlines used a small Boeing 757 only for local flights, then with the change in laws, they were able to send the 757 across the ocean.

In the first article in the series, I wrote that there is nothing worse for an airline than an incomplete plane load:

How much do flights actually cost?

That is why airlines jumped at the opportunity to use small aircraft over long distances, since in this case the probability of 100% loading increases significantly. Accordingly, today most airlines around the world have a need for small airliners with a good range (13,000 kilometers). The Boeing 787 Dreamliner now performs this role.

Past and future of air travel

And such giants as the two-deck Airbus A380 are gradually becoming a thing of the past.

Past and future of air travel

It is easier and more profitable for companies to send several small planes than one large one. This is also more profitable for passengers, since, from the point of view of flight economics, they will pay less for a ticket – a small plane will burn less fuel and pay less for the airport.

And most importantly, small liners are not so picky about the airport infrastructure. They can do with a simpler and shorter runway, and for embarkation and disembarkation, you can roll up the ladder. This factor made it possible to significantly expand the geography of flights and move away from the principle of transport hubs, implying that first passengers are brought to a large center, and then they are transported further from there.

Airplanes learned to fly directly, and flights such as New York to Birmingham became possible. Previously, passengers would have to fly to London first. A direct flight would not have been possible, since the airline simply would not have recruited so many people willing to go to Birmingham to fill the cabin of a large plane. And filling a small Airbus A320 neo for 160-200 people is easy.

Airlines are now waiting to see what Boeing or Airbus will come up with to meet the demand for a small, economical, long-range aircraft.

There is no suitable model on the market as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is not perfect. It is still too big. Dreamliner has a capacity of about 350 passengers and can fly 13,000 kilometers. There is also a Boeing 737 MAX on the market, which is too small: only 230 passengers and a flight range of 5,900 kilometers.

Boeing has already announced an intermediate model 797 with 225-260 passengers and a range of 9,650 kilometers, due to hit the market in 2025.

This is exactly what the planes of the near future will be like: compact, capable of flying long distances and choosing routes that are not tied to large centers. Most likely, this concept will serve as a stimulus for the development of tourism and economic growth.

The second agenda for the aircraft of the future is short-haul transportation. Airlines are envious of railways. The way from St. Petersburg to Moscow is both easier and cheaper to do on the Sapsan. And, for example, you can only get to Veliky Novgorod or Tver by train. It is unprofitable to use traditional aircraft for such short distances. However, both Boeing and Airbus are developing electric aircraft. At the moment, electric motors do not have enough power, speed and range to fly long distances, but they are almost ideal for short flights. If the distance is 3-4 hundreds of kilometers, it doesn't matter if the plane is flying at a speed of 550 or 650 kilometers per hour. The difference in minutes is small.

The example with Russia is conditional, but in Japan the concept is being considered seriously and they are considering whether the planes will be able to compete with high-speed trains.


Thanks to the development of aviation in the near future, the world will become even more compact, tickets will be cheaper, and there will be more direct flights to remote corners where they have not flown before. Perhaps we will be lucky, and in Russia, the prices for air tickets, if they do not fall, then at least will not rise.

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