LANDED GENTRY: Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 or VSS Enterprise, glides toward the earth on its first test flight last year.
GRAND improvements in transport will have you flying to the moon.
WITH Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic able to take tourists to the edge of space and veteran physicist Stephen Hawking recently declaring forward time travel is “entirely plausible” provided we can get our space ships going fast enough, some of the greatest travel advances of all time are on the horizon.
But for those of us not burdened by excess piles of cash or patient enough to wait for a century or so of research to come to fruition, we, too, have plenty to look forward to.
NASA may have retired its space shuttle program, but it’s contracting the most advanced aircraft manufacturers to make better, faster and more environmentally friendly versions of the air ships we now use. Meanwhile, amid global economic uncertainty, carriers around the world are fighting tooth and nail to win our hard-earned travel dollars with innovations to make us choose their most comfortable, friendly or convenient service.
The advent of the high-speed train is making track travel a genuine headache for budget domestic and, in some cases, international airlines. And when it comes to recreation, few related industries are more dynamic than cruise liners, with more of the ocean-going party palaces being built every day, each bigger and always with new gimmicks to lure fun-seekers.
Let’s take a look at what is in the near distance for our mightiest people-movers in the world of travel.
Planes As of this month, 236 orders have been made for the world’s biggest passenger airliner, the “super jumbo” Airbus A380 the 59 delivered since October 2007 have already carried 15 million passengers. It may sound like a case of commercial one-upmanship for airlines to want to own the biggest therefore the best but more passengers at a time means less fuel consumption per passenger, meaning in theory cheaper flights once these big birds dominate the skies.But energy and dollars spent getting their hands on the biggest planes isn’t stopping airlines from trying to be the best in your eyes, with the past year seeing fantastic innovations in comfort. Emirates has shower spas in its A380, Virgin has joined Emirates with public bars onboard and most airlines now have some celebrity linked to at least their first-class menus.
Draught beer on flights, double beds in the form of Air New Zealand’s Skycouch and more interactive entertainment, including live TV, will also become more prevalent.
But far more functional features will emerge in the next few years, including wi-fi and mobile coverage as soon as the seatbelt light goes off (Cathay Pacific expects to go live next year) and an even greater focus on low-carbon fuel consumption, such as that made from steel production waste gases, set to be used on some Virgin Atlantic aircraft.
On the bigger end of the scale, NASA has chosen Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing to create what airliners will look like in 2035, the brief being for a craft that is quieter, cheaper, more comfortable and more fuel efficient. NASA expects their designs to reveal a 70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and operational costs.
The preliminary designs have already shown advances in the materials used and the design features, with engines looking likely to disappear from the wings in the future.
“Standing next to the airplane, you may not be able to tell the difference, but the improvements will be revolutionary,” says Richard Wahls, a Fundamental Aeronautics Program project scientist.
“Technological beauty is more than skin deep.”
Trains Breathing down the airlines’ neck is the humble train, which in the past few years has become a genuine alternative to air travel.
The era of spending days on a train to get from one side of a country to another is long gone, with more countries laying special tracks to get passengers between their major centres at 200-300km/h with minimal stops.
There are 48 territories including Australia talking about high-speed rail networks, but plenty are following through as evidence mounts as to its value to the consumer and the environment.
After struggling in its early days from 2004, Korea’s Train eXpress (KTX) has been running its route from Seoul to Busan at a profit since 2007, and is planning a new section from Seoul to Mokpo in 2014.
China’s extensive high-speed rail network will be epic, with 8358km of its 25,000km of planned track already laid. The Beijing to Shanghai leg is a massive boon for businessmen keen to stay online while in transit and Hong Kong is also building a 26km high-speed rail tunnel to connect it to mainland China.
In Europe, budget airlines may be shaking in their boots, with a large amount of track construction planned.
After the upgrading of its famous suburban underground rail network ahead of next year’s Olympics, Londoners soon will be able to hop on a train to Frankfurt in Germany they’re already spoilt by the convenient tunnel taking them directly to Paris in a few short hours. The London to Paris route was once among the world’s busiest air avenues, but since the rail line linked them, planes account for less than 20 per cent of travel between the cities.
In Spain, since high-speed rail between financial centres and hugely popular tourist centres Barcelona and Madrid (also once an air superhighway) was opened in 2007, only 40 per cent of travel is by air.
Travel technology blog Tnooz.com reports that when high-speed rail takes a trip to under 3 1/2 hours, such as London-Paris and Barcelona-Madrid, it becomes the preferred transport.
With the increasing confidence in the magnetic levitation train, already operating on small routes, train travel can become much faster. A Japanese JR-Maglev has clocked up 581km/h on a manned three-car run.
Ships While planes and trains are trying to go faster, bigger and for less dosh to capture our interest, the ever-popular cruise liner is thriving. While the industry faces a tag of seeming old-fashioned, ships are being built like they’re going out of fashion, and they’re getting bigger all the time.
The carrier with 10 of the world’s 14 biggest cruise ships, Royal Caribbean Cruises, is again adding to its fleet with its two Project Sunshine class ships, unnamed as yet, which will be the world’s second-largest passenger ships behind Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas.
The company is traditionally tight-lipped about new additions, but has confirmed they will hold 4100 passengers and be more eco- friendly than its existing fleet.
Less coy is Italian cruise operator MSC, whose Divina will be christened in May next year. The third in its class for the company, it will operate a reverse osmosis system that it claims will use 40 per cent less power.
Norwegian Cruise Liners’ Norwegian Breakaway will set sail in April 2013, with its sister Norwegian Gateway following in 2014. The operator says it has taken the best from its fleet born in 2001, with the most notable element coming from the Norwegian Epic’s “studio staterooms”, a first for contemporary cruise liners, which are cabins and social areas designed and priced with solo cruisers in mind. Rather than cramming singles into the guts of the ship, the area is light and welcoming.
Disney’s burgeoning cruise presence will continue with the April 2012 launch of Fantasy, taking the entertainment giant’s cruise fleet to four. Again, Fantasy will push the limits of how much fun can be packed on to a boat, including just like on the Disney Dream – the revolutionary Aquaduck waterslide afloat and Broadway-style Disney shows.
And the line made famous by The Love Boat, Princess Cruises, is continuing to grow with the April 2012 launch of the Royal Princess. The stunning ship, the biggest for the iconic liners, will feature a seawalk and sea-view bar with glass floors, putting cruisers literally on the ocean.
This is one means of travel and leisure that is moving forward in the 21st century.