Thu 04 Jan 2018 - Impact

Five Realities Shaping The Future Of Airports

Leslie Horwitz

Strategic Communications

Airports today are in the midst of a functional, architectural, and cultural evolution, in response to the changing needs of populations and cities around the world. In order to thrive in the twenty-first century, airports must adapt to the following realities: innovate on the non-aeronautical side of the ledger, rethink cars and bags, tackle security bottlenecks through biometric solutions, face capacity restraints through connectivity or expansion, and integrate airports as urban resources.

This past November, we joined architects, public space advocates, designers, artists, engineers, planners, academic, and manufacturers to discuss these cross-sector solutions at the Aerial Futures Symposium in Downtown Los Angeles. Our talk at the symposium focused on the potential for Hyperloop One systems to connect two or more airports in minutes to alleviate congestion and improve passenger experience. Read more about this concept here.

Personalized experiences to boost revenue

Airports already generate as much of their revenue from passengers as they do from airlines. That split will tilt even more toward the non-aeronautical side of the ledger in the coming years. Landing fees, typically set by regulators, have been stagnant for the last two decades despite the growth in travel. That is putting pressure on airports to sell more perfume and Toblerone bars or, better yet, rethink everything they do with regards to passenger experience.

Airports have been heeding the call. At the Hong Kong International Airport there’s an an Imax 3-D/2D in Terminal 2 — the largest in Hong Kong — with seats for 350 people. At Incheon International Airport you can find a movie theater, an ice-skating rink, an array of gardens, napping areas, a driving range and golf course and a dry cleaner. Luminescent, live jellyfish float and glide hypnotically at Vancouver’s airport, as part of a massive aquarium collection, and others have public art, movie theaters, yoga studios, even rooftop pools, to make airports more fun and less of a slog. The ultimate goal is that passengers linger longer, and buy more stuff. “The number of passengers that flow through airports really rivals any other mechanism out there that can congregate that many customers in one place,” says Ken Buchanan, executive vice president of revenue management for Dallas-Fort Worth International, in a recent Bloomberg piece. “It’s like having a Super Bowl worth of people every single day.”

At Singapore’s Changi Airport, travelers can watch planes taking off from a rooftop swimming pool and Jacuzzi. Image: Alamy

Rethinking cars and bags

Parking, which has been a reliable revenue stream especially in North America, is under threat as the rise of Uber and Lyft hurt parking revenue. Parking makes up 40% of non-aeronautical revenue in North America compared to 20% at European airports. To compensate, many airports are charging transportation network companies a fee to pick up passengers, to make up for potential revenue loss and to prevent an unfair advantage. Some also charge for drop-offs, an annual permit fee or a one-time operating fee.

Jackie Coburn from ARUP highlighted another idea in her talk at Aerial Futures: to disaggregate parking, security, and bag-check completely from the airport. In this model, security and bag check functions would occur in the city center, and then passengers could travel via a secure transportation network to a more bare-bones airfield site. This approach could be enabled by the adoption of biometric technologies and secure bag services -- including self-bag-drops, remote bag drops, and bag tracking service.

One of the first successful bag drop models started in New Zealand. New Zealand is a small country and other than international flights, Air New Zealand runs very short domestic flights running 1-2 hours. It was taking their passengers more time to get to and from the airport than it took for them to take their domestic flight, and the operator was losing market share as passengers chose to make the drive instead. In 2015, their new self-service bag drop allowed customers to scan their passports and boarding passes, have their identities verified by a biometric camera, and then weigh and offload their luggage -- reducing the time spent in the terminal.

Some airports have remote bag drops, which serve passengers taking public transportation. Passengers going to Zurich and Geneva airport can now check and claim their baggage at more than 50 Swiss railway stations. Bags can be checked more conveniently at these off-site locations up to 24 hours in advance of departure. Airlines are also looking to ease uncertainty, post bag drop. For example, Delta Airlines and United both have bag-tracking apps. One reason is to make it more enticing for passengers to entrust their belongings, and clear up room in the overhead compartments. Overhead bags are such a headache for airlines that Teague, in their ultimate concept airline, even eliminates most carry-on luggage in favor of smaller “fedora” bins.

A biometric fix to the security bottleneck

Biometrics are coming, meaning no security lines for passengers, and hopefully longer shopping periods for airport retailers. Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection is proposing to do away with passports or even interaction with border officials by using facial, iris and fingerprint recognition instead. The government's Seamless Traveller initiative wants to be able process 90% of travelers with no human involvement by 2020. Airlines are also experimenting. JetBlue has been testing facial recognition equipment in Boston to match travelers with their passports and visa photos, and Delta is trying out fingerprints as a potential future replacement for boarding passes and ID.

Dubai International Airport, on track to host some 124 million people by 2020, is installing a tunnel outfitted with 80 facial recognition and iris scanning cameras. The tunnel's walls can display images of aquariums and deserts - or even advertisements. Passengers would walk through the tunnel, gazing around at the fish or landscape while scanning devices capture a quality image of their face, eyes and gait. By the end of the tunnel, the database would know to notify the passenger to have a nice journey or to alert officials to take another look.

Dubai airport security tunnel. Image: Satish Kumar for The National

Capacity is the elephant in the room

Airports are running out of room to grow. The number of global passenger trips is expected to double from four to eight billion between now and 2036. Around the world, many of the busiest hubs are unable to meet this growth. All of London's major airports will be full by 2030. India's airports will exceed capacity by 2022. The US needs more than $75 billion in new runways, terminals, and other facilities to meet projected demand through the early 2020s. And Asia’s main hubs are already at capacity, despite being among the largest in the world. Solutions are never easy. Airports can expand runways, the way Heathrow is proposing, but new runways can cost close to $20 billion each. Even if money was no object, there are a number of concerns. In London, for example, local MPs are uniting against the third runway, citing noise and air quality concerns.

At the same time, there are many airports around the world that are underserved. In some places like India, regional connector flights are being subsidized by the government to stimulate economic growth. We’ve spoken with governments around the world about this issue and are exploring how a hyperloop connector could help airports expand capacity by connecting regional airports into one airport hub.

The Noise Landscape: A Spatial Exploration of Airports and Cities, by Benedikt Boucsein

Airports integrated as urban resources, not city appendages

The airport is many travelers’ first interface to the city. “Smart cities recognize that airports are their calling card: it’s the very first and last impression that visitors have of your town, and also of your country” notes Max Hirsh, also a contributor at Aerial Futures, in our recent Q&A. In his keynote at Aerial Futures, Benjamin H. Bratton, Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, drew a parallel between the organization of airports and the nature of leisure and policing zones within cities. “The airport discloses without fanfare, that cities are airports, airports are not simulations of cities, rather cities are simulations of airports. It is where police deep scan your person, while blending you a delicious smoothie of your choosing.”

While there was a call for airports to assume a role of the “commons,” of localized, connected, adaptable, public spaces for entertainment or even civic action, Curtis Fentress, Principal Airport Terminal Designer at Fentress Architects, noted the commercial and organizational reality of these spaces. “Those spaces inside the building (in the airport, past security)...those are all driven by economy, what people will pay for, and how it’s paid for is one of the issues in terms of it developing as public space and in a natural way.”

The future of airports is constantly evolving, morphed by sometimes harmonious and sometimes contradictory objectives: better wayfinding and aesthetics for passengers, faster and more secure flows for security agencies, more profitable and efficient operations for airlines, and greater revenue for airport authorities. As airports and air travel develop, the dynamic conversation among industry stakeholders and the collaborative innovations already underway makes us ever more confident in our aerial future.

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  • Q. What is Virgin Hyperloop?

    We're a privately-held company on a mission to create fast, effortless journeys that expand possibilities and eliminate the barriers of distance and time.

  • Q. Why are you building a hyperloop?

    There are too many people caught bumper-to-bumper in traffic, who have to make a hard choice with their family on where to live and work, and who are limited in their access to experiences and opportunities. We're building a system that will give back time and deliver the travel experience of the future.

  • Q. Why do we need hyperloop now?

    The number of cars is set to double worldwide by 2040, same with air and trucking. We are already dealing with the effects of pollution, lack of access, and congestion. If we only invest in the same technologies we’ve had for more than a century, tomorrow will look like today, only much worse. It’s been over a century since the Wright Brothers first showed us human flight was possible. It’s time for a new era in transportation capable of carrying us forward for the next 100 years.

  • Q. How much funding has Virgin Hyperloop received?

    To date, we have received over $400 million.

  • Q. Who are the key investors in Virgin Hyperloop?

    A major investor of ours is DP World, a leading enabler of global trade who sees the potential of sustainable hyperloop-enabled cargo systems. Additionally, we are backed by the Virgin Group, an industry leader across rail, aviation, ships, and even spacecrafts. For more on our investors, visit the company page.

  • Q. Does Virgin Hyperloop have any partners?

    Virgin Hyperloop One is the only hyperloop company that has a strategic partnership with a mass transportation company, the Virgin Group, an industry leader across rail, aviation, ships, and even spacecrafts. Another key partner of ours is DP World, a leading enabler of global trade who sees the potential of sustainable hyperloop-enabled cargo systems. Other industry-leading partners include KPMG, Foster + Partners, Systra, BIG, SNCF, GE, Deutsche Bahn, Black & Veatch, McKinsey, Deloitte, Jacobs, Turner & Townsend, ARUP, and Steer, among others.

  • Q. Is Elon Musk an investor or affiliated with Virgin Hyperloop?

    No, there’s no connection with Elon Musk.

  • Q. How do you plan to scale up operations around the world?

    We aren't just building a hyperloop; we're building a network of public and private partners to scale an integrated supply chain ecosystem. Our business model is based on partnerships that create local jobs and opportunities for those who choose to invest in this technology. We are working at the highest level of governments around the globe to put in place commercial agreements to make hyperloop a reality.

  • Q. What is hyperloop?

    Hyperloop is a new mode of transportation designed to eliminate the barriers of distance and time for both people and freight. It can travel at speeds approaching 700mph, connecting cities like metro stops - and it has zero direct emissions. The journeys can be booked on demand so there’s no wait time or delays.

  • Q. How does hyperloop work?

    With hyperloop, vehicles, called pods, accelerate gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube. The pod floats along the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag.

  • Q. Has hyperloop technology been proven?

    On May 12th, 2017, we made history two minutes after midnight when we successfully launched our vehicle using electromagnetic propulsion and levitation under near-vacuum conditions at our full-scale test site in the Nevada Desert. We've since run hundreds of tests, acquiring validated knowledge that only comes from real-world testing. For more info on DevLoop, our 500 m test track, visit our progress page.

  • Q. How fast can hyperloop go?

    We estimate that the top speed for a passenger vehicle or light cargo will be 670 miles per hour or 1080 kilometers per hour. That is about 3 times faster than high-speed rail and 10-15 times faster than traditional rail. The average speed vehicles travel will vary based on the route and customer requirements.

  • Q. Why keep the tube at low-pressure and not at a perfect vacuum?

    A perfect vacuum would decrease the drag on the vehicle even more, but not significantly. We have already gotten rid of 99.9% of the air in the tube. Lower levels of vacuum than this are important if you are performing scientific experiments, but the cost would not be worthwhile.

  • Q. How is hyperloop different from high-speed trains?

    Hyperloop is an entirely new mode - think the best of trains, planes, and the metro. Hyperloop is on-demand, offering flexible travel schedules with no stops, no transfers, and no weather delays – all at speeds about 3 times faster than high-speed-rail and less cost. Hyperloop is highly efficient, with a smaller environmental impact than high-speed rail because the closed system can be tunneled below or elevated above ground, avoiding dangerous at-grade crossings. The VHO system is 100% electric and can reach higher speeds than high-speed rail for less energy due to our proprietary electric motor and low-drag environment.

  • Q. Is hyperloop safe?

    Fast, effortless journeys go hand-in-hand with journeys where everything works reliably without interference, and where all passengers feel comfortable and safe. The Virgin Hyperloop is designed to be inherently safer than other modes, with multiple redundancies in place. Our system operates autonomously in an enclosed tube and is not susceptible to weather delays, accidents from at-grade crossings, human error, or power outages. Our proprietary high-speed switching architecture eliminates unsafe track configurations and moving trackside parts, a failure point of traditional rail with mechanical switches.

  • Q. How do you plan to get hyperloop certified?

    As new mode, we have to prove our safety case to regulators and work with them to develop a regulatory framework, so passengers can ride the hyperloop in years not decades. We are encouraged by the support we are seeing at the local and federal level around the world to support hyperloop certification based on the fundamentals of safe operating that are already standard practice. In March 2019, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, created the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council to explore the regulation and permitting of hyperloop technology to bring this new form of mass transportation to the United States. This Council is an important step forward in recognizing hyperloop is a new transportation mode and that we need to shift our mindset and acknowledge that this technology does not fit into a regulatory structure that is over 100 years old. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DGMOVE) has also been leading discussions with hyperloop companies to advance regulatory standards and, in India, the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA), Prof. Vijayraghavan, has set up an independent committee called the Consultative Group on Future of Transportation (CGFT) to explore the regulatory path for hyperloop. For more, visit our regulatory progress pages.

  • Q. What will it feel like to ride hyperloop?

    While flying through a tube at more than 1000km/h might seem like a thrill ride, the truth is we are able to mitigate any uncomfortable acceleration forces within our controlled environment. The journey will be so smooth, you could sip a coffee the whole time without spilling a single drop. Normal acceleration and deceleration of 0.20 Gs will feel similar to a train. As a comparison, flooring a typical sedan gives between 0.4-0.5 Gs and commercial airplanes see 0.3-0.5Gs depending on the plane and load.

  • Q. What happens if there's a sudden breach in the tube?

    Pods will continue to travel safely to the next portal even with a large breach. Our response to a breach would be to intentionally repressurize the tube with small valves places along the route length while engaging pod brakes to safely bringing all pods to rest before it is deemed safe to continue to the next portal. A sustained leak could impact performance (speed) but would not pose a safety issue due to vehicle and system architectural design choices. This assessment is based in solid understanding and analysis of the complex vehicle load behaviors during such an event.

  • Q. Is hyperloop sustainable?

    Without a massive leap forward, pollution from the transportation industry is expected to almost double by 2050 - well above the carbon budget. By combining an ultra-efficient electric motor, magnetic levitation, and a low-drag environment, the VHO system can reach airline speeds for 5-10x less energy (depends on route length) and can go faster than high-speed rail using less energy. In regions like the Middle East, we could power the system completely by solar panels which cover the tube. As fighting against climate change becomes an existential issue for cities across the globe, hyperloop will create a new, shared, electric mobility model for helping to permanently reform an industry with some of the world’s highest carbon emissions.

  • Q. How much energy does hyperloop use?

    We are designing Virgin Hyperloop to be more efficient than other modes of transportation. Modern jetliners use up to 10 times the energy we use per passenger-mile over the entire journey. We can cruise at 500 miles per hour for less energy (per passenger) than an electric car doing 60 miles per hour. At peak speed, the VHO system consumes approximately 75 watt hours per passenger kilometer (Wh/pax-km). To put this in perspective, the fastest conventional maglev train travels at about half our speed and consumes 33% more energy.

  • Q. Where will hyperloop get its power?

    Our system is 100% electric with zero direct emissions. We're energy-agnostic. Our system can draw power from whichever energy sources are available along the route and support a transition to a renewable energy-powered future. In regions like the Middle East, we can completely power the system with solar panels which cover the tube.

  • Q. How much noise does hyperloop make?

    It’s similar those new electric vehicles that are so quiet they need to create noise to indicate movement. With hyperloop, we eliminate sources of mechanical noise, like wheels on track, and we actually have a sound barrier inherent in our tube design

  • Q. Can hyperloop be used for cargo?

    DP World Cargospeed is a global brand for hyperloop-enabled cargo systems operated by DP World and enabled by Virgin Hyperloop technology. These systems will deliver freight at the speed of flight and closer to the cost of trucking for fast, sustainable, and efficient delivery of palletized cargo.

  • Q. What type of cargo would a hyperloop system transport?

    The focus would be on high-priority, on-demand goods – fresh food, medical supplies, electronics, and more.

  • Q. How can hyperloop help transform logistics?

    With DP World Cargospeed, deliveries can be completed in hours versus days with greater reliability and fewer delays. It will expand freight transportation capacity by connecting with existing modes of road, rail, ports, and air transport, and will provide greater connectivity with manufacturing parks, economic zones, distribution centers, and regional urban centers. This can shrink inventory lead times, help reduce finished goods inventory, and cut required warehouse space and cost by 25%. DP World Cargospeed networks can also enable just-in-time, agile manufacturing practices.

  • Q. Will the first hyperloops be passenger or cargo systems?

    The Virgin Hyperloop is unique in that it doesn’t need to be passenger-only or cargo-only. We are designing a mixed-use system that fully utilizes system capacity while maximizing economic and social benefits. However, it is possible to run cargo commercial operations while certification and regulation are still ongoing for passenger use.

  • Q. When will hyperloop systems be ready for cargo and passengers?

    We are working with the most visionary governments around the world to make sure you can ride the hyperloop in years, not decades. Our goal is to have operational systems in the late 2020s. Our ability to meet that goal will depend on how fast the regulatory and statutory processes move.

  • Q. Where will the first hyperloop get built?

    We are working with visionary governments and partners around the world to make hyperloop a reality today. To learn more about our projects around the world, visit our progress page.

  • Q. How much will hyperloop cost to build and operate?

    Capital and operating costs will range widely based on the route. We recently released a study that showed our linear costs are 60-70% that of high-speed rail projects. In addition, we expect the operational costs to be significantly lower than existing forms of transportation.

  • Q. How much will hyperloop cost to ride?

    It’s simple – if it’s not affordable, people won't use it. We are looking to build something that will expand opportunities for the masses, so they can live in one city with their family and work in another. Currently, that kind of high-speed transport is not feasible for most people. The exact ticket price will vary for each route, but a recent study showed that riding a hyperloop in Missouri could cost less than the gas needed to drive.

  • Q. How are hyperloop routes selected?

    We are in the business of serving local needs, not the other way around. Public and private support is key. In some cases, we will respond to solicited bids with partners when we feel the technology matches the project’s objectives. In other cases, we will make an unsolicited bid for a project when we see that hyperloop could offer a unique solution to market needs.

  • Q. What is the process for getting a passenger route up and running?

    While the technology is different, the process for building a hyperloop is similar to that of building a highway, railway, or any other type of linear infrastructure. The first stage is project development. This phase includes feasibility studies, and then more detailed engineering reports and environmental impact studies. Once a project is approved to move forward, a consortium is formed to finance and deliver on the project.

  • Q. How much land does hyperloop require?

    Many infrastructure projects succeed or fail based on right-of-way issues. We are designing a system that requires only about half the right-of-way as high-speed rail and can more easily adapt to existing right-of-ways. At high speeds, the VHO system has a 4.5 times tighter turn radius compared to high-speed rail and can climb grades that are 6 times steeper, reducing the disturbance at crossings. Portals will be purposely integrated into and support existing communities and landscapes. Low noise levels will expand opportunities to build hyperloops closer to the city center.

  • Q. With the focus on connecting cities, how will hyperloop support rural communities?

    Hyperloop also holds enormous promise for rural communities. Virgin Hyperloop systems can be built below or above ground, which means no one’s farm needs to be cut in half. Our system enables rural areas to retain residents, who can now have more access to urban job centers, educational opportunities, and health care facilities. Additionally, hyperloop could enable freight distribution centers to be placed in rural areas, leading to job growth and industrial clusters. After a system is built, there is the opportunity to add additional on and off-ramps, supporting a greater number of people along the route.

  • Q. How will hyperloop projects be financed?

    Transportation infrastructure has traditionally relied on extensive government funding. This is because the benefits of clean, safe, and efficient transportation are enjoyed by the entire community, not just the user buying a ticket. However, most existing mass transportation modes are unprofitable and hindered by existing infrastructure built in the past century or by legacy systems. We want to change that and are focused on public-private partnerships. By developing a new mode of transportation from scratch, we're able to leverage technological developments that have occurred in the last century, especially the IT revolution. We're able to keep maintenance costs low, energy efficiency high, and transport tens of thousands of passengers per hour. This keeps margins and accessibility high, contributing to more financially attractive returns than if the corridor was served by existing modes. These benefits aren’t just hypothetical. While this is an exceptional case due to high demand, a third-party evaluation found that our Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop Project could be funded 100% by private capital. In the U.S. we see enormous potential to attract investment from the private sector, leveraging public investments. Involving government stakeholders as well as potential private investors early in the project development process is critical.

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