In 1980, 642 million people flew on a commercial airline flight. In those days, you could show up an hour before and have time to get coffee before your flight. Legroom was plentiful, and you would be treated to a full meal in-flight. By 2000, airline passengers nearly tripled to 1.7 billion. Legroom shrunk and fees for baggage and food became the norm. Last year, the number of airline passengers reached almost 3.7 billion.
The phenomenal growth of air travel in the last 40 years has been due to globalization, an increase in disposable income, and the dramatic fall in ticket prices. In 1980, an average ticket in the US cost $592.55, which would be roughly $1,800 today. In 2010, even with baggage and other fees the average cost of a US flight was $337.97.
Airline travel growth has been a boon for the airline industry but has put a tremendous strain on airport infrastructure and the environment worldwide. With air travel demand set to double in the next twenty years to 7.8 billion passengers, airport capacity will become a more significant challenge around the globe.
Global air passengers carried 1974-2016. Source: Worldbank
Based on planned airport capacity in Europe, 1.9 million flights would not be accommodated by 2035, and passengers could end up paying an additional €6.3 billion in higher airfares each year due to airport capacity constraints. 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.
Even if the world’s busiest airports wanted to expand by adding new runways and terminals, hard limits are keeping them from doing so. The biggest challenge is land. Airports are surrounded by development and have often built to their footprint. New York’s LaGuardia Airport, served a record 29.8 million passengers in 2016 and is consistently notorious for delays. The airport is boxed in and runway expansions would require an environmentally-challenging plan to fill in parts of Jamaica Bay or new runways on Rikers Island. Airport expansion projects are also hampered by environmental concerns and community backlash against noise, air pollution, and real estate impact. In London, Stansted Airport has revised its growth plans to add a new runway and is facing pressure to not increase flights due to community worries; Heathrow’s planned runway expansion has been delayed for years due to community and political concerns.
“U.S. needs more than 75 B to meet demand…Asia’s main hubs are at capacity.”
Political leaders around the world find that, it’s political suicide not to expand airports because of growing demand, but it’s also politically challenging not to develop because of concerns from the surrounding community. It’s an impossible bind.
Creating One Airport from Two with Hyperloop
Hyperloop One offers an answer to this challenge. By connecting two distant airports that are 40-70 kilometers apart with rapid travel times equivalent to walking from one end of a terminal to the other, hyperloop can effectively create a mega airport out of two.
This is powerful when you consider that several large metropolitan authorities are building new secondary airports or expanding regional airports to meet demand, often well outside cities. Nearly $255 Billion is being invested in new, greenfield airport projects around the world including adding secondary city airports.
Linking airports together to create a mega-airport not only creates greater capacity and maximizes the use of existing assets, but very importantly can either defer or significantly reduce capital investment spend needed to develop new or existing airports. In addition, grouping airport assets would create a ripple of benefits for airlines, passengers, and the regional economy. More capacity means airlines can service more routes with greater reliability and flexibility. As a result, airports increase passenger flows and gain higher airline usage revenues. More passenger footfall creates greater retail opportunities and improved real estate value.
Healthy competition between airlines leads to better pricing and options for consumers. Additional flights at a lower price create a competitive local economy, boosts spending for local businesses, and provides tourism and trade opportunities.
Key benefits as a result of connecting two airports with a hyperloop. Source: Hyperloop One
There are many cities around the world where this idea could make sense.
The world’s busiest international airport, Dubai International Airport, has the ability to serve 120 million passengers and saw 7.2 percent growth in trips last year stretching the airport’s capacity limits. Foreseeing future demand, Dubai opened Al Maktoum International Airport in 2010 to handle up to 120 million passengers once completed. The two airports are roughly 65 kilometers apart — a journey that takes almost one hour by shuttle bus. Hyperloop has the potential to reduce that trip to under 10 minutes, creating a single mega-airport capable of serving 240 million passengers.
In India, 40 Indian airports are expected to be at capacity in the next decade. Amongst this number is Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport which is experiencing passenger demand growth at 20% and will reach capacity by next year. Mumbai is building Navi Mumbai International airport east of the city which will begin operations in 2019/2020. Due to tremendous congestion in Mumbai, the success of the airport which is farther afield from the urban center could be hampered by lack of convenient transport options. With a hyperloop connection, travelers can travel to whatever airport is closest and transfer in under 10 minutes. Connecting terminals via hyperloop would create a mega-airport capable of eventually serving over 100 million passengers.
Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam is Europe’s third busiest. It is quickly reaching its passenger capacity limits and boxed in by surrounding city. Hyperloop could link Schiphol Airport and Lelystad Airport 50 kilometers away in about 4 minutes. Lelystad Airport is the largest general aviation airport in the Netherlands serving corporate, training, sightseeing, and charter flights. This connection could increase Schiphol’s capacity from 58 million to 65 million passengers annually and potentially avoid a costly new runway and terminal expansion.
“Multi-airport cities are quickly becoming the norm given air travel demand,” said Nick Earle, SVP of Field Operations at Hyperloop One. “Combining two airports into a mega-airport with hyperloop could help airlines serve more customer which ultimately improves passenger choice and convenience not to mention helping boost the regional economy and address several environmental concerns. We’re seeing some tremendous interest amongst airport leaders and city planners around this approach.”