Pilotless planes, designer cabins and competitive prices, it is time to upgrade for your next flight.
As the world’s major airports become ever-more crowded, flying on commercial airlines is going to become increasingly stressful.
London Heathrow currently operates at 98 per cent of its capacity, with flights capped at 480,000 annually, which is why there are plans to build a third runway, but in 20 years, every airport in the capital is going to be full. By 2030, our skies will be so congested that there will be 50 times more delays with the International Air Transport Association predicting that by 2035, there will be 7.2 billion air travellers globally, double the number in 2016.
The answer to this is private jets, especially because in Europe alone, there are 3,000 airfields that can accommodate them, versus just 300 airports for commercial airlines that use bigger planes. Together with this, aircrafts of ever-greater range and efficiency are being produced, from light jets such as Cessna’s Citation M2, Embraer’s Phenom and the all-new HondaJet, to the transoceanic flagships of Gulfstream, Bombardier and Dassault. Planes are lighter, because of the composite materials used in their construction, and safer thanks to ever-more automated flight systems and sharp tech to help pilots.
However, until a new generation of jets breaks the sound barrier, they aren’t getting any quicker, with a hop from Dubai to New York still taking more than 14 hours in the Gulfstream 650ER, the fastest long-range jet. So, the accent is on comfort inside the flying machine, with architects and psychologists working with engineers to ensure that the space is so agreeable the occupants forget they are 41,000 feet in the air.
Described as the ‘Netflix of air travel’, Californian subscriber-based start-up Surf Air has just branched out to Europe offering ‘all-you-can-fly’ monthly packages, using a combination of eight-seat Embraer Phenom 300s, the new improved version of ‘the best-selling business jet in the world’ and, from next year, Pilatus PC-12s, one of the most reliable and the longest-range aircraft of its type. Headquartered in Florida, JetSmarter is another disrupter. Just like UberPool, you download the app and request a seat on a private jet with strangers, and you can also snap up amazingly cheap seats on empty legs where the aircraft is returning to its home base.
For the really smart flyer, France-based European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Italian hypercar designer Pagani Automobili have come together to create the futuristic Infinito cabin for the new ACJ319neo plane. The standout feature is its sky ceiling, which makes it look like a convertible, but is actually a digital screen displaying a live feed of the sky above. The jet can seat eight passengers and fly for 15 hours, meaning you could travel from Dubai to New York without stopping to refuel. Other collaborations are coming from fashion brands such as Versace and Armani that are turning their hand to fitting out private jets.
We all know planes can fly on auto-pilot, but how would you feel if there was no pilot in the cockpit? Like it or not, plans for fully autonomous aircraft powered by artificial intelligence are already taking off. Just like self-driving cars, the promise is for improved safety by removing the risk of human error, one of the primary causes of accidents. In Dubai, drones have already embarked on test flights, the vision being for them to whizz between tower blocks, transporting tourists in sci-fi flying taxis.
As commercial airports turn into monster hubs for the world’s biggest airlines, chic, design-forward satellite terminals for private jets will form a counter trend. From Farnborough’s space-age airbase of undulating steel and glass, to Stobart Aviation’s cutting-edge jet centre at Southend Airport, these airports offer dedicated concierges and 24 hours a day service. A growing number of companies are also building their own private aviation hubs. At Nike’s global headquarters in Portland, next to Hillsboro airport, is Nike’s Air Hangar 1, one of the most design-led private jet terminals on the planet. Boxy in shape, with glossy all-white hangars decorated with posters of Nike ambassadors, not only does it have a gourmet kitchen, stylish meeting spaces and lounges, but a fitness centre too.