Unlike the 20th century, the 21st century has an airline industry that is powered by competition in terms of keeping costs low and providing the best service, but also the cheapest service. Airlines want to connect as many destinations as possible, and fly as many passengers as possible, with a recent IATA (International Air Transport Association) figures indicating that, on an average, airlines profit by only $8.27 per passenger. Thus to make significant profits, airlines today depend on the maximum possible utilization of an aircraft – keep it flying as much as possible. This is why the focus on airlines today is on the “turnaround time” that they achieve, which is the time it takes for an airplane to be in the air again after landing. Top profiting airlines like Southwest and AirAsia have a turnaround time of 25 minutes on average. But this requires an almost frenzied pace of work at the ground – be it loading and unloading bags, refueling, loading food trays, and worst of all – herding passengers in. What if this could be made easier?
Recently, the French aircraft manufacturing giant, Airbus, patented an idea wherein a cabin of the airplane is removable – it is placed into the aircraft by a crane like machine at the boarding gate. Thus instead of getting passengers and bags into the airplane one-by-one, the process is relatively instantaneous. This saves time for the aircraft which can reduce the turnaround time significantly. The passengers can get seated in their seats at their own pace, inside the terminal building, without the plane having to be there. But Airbus’ idea seems very basic and coarse. One of the biggest issues related to this would be the structural integrity of a plane which has a top that opens and closes. There is also the issue of airports being redesigned to have gates with the mechanism to lift and load these “pods” or cabins.
But a more refined pod-based idea for planes has been suggested. A Swiss institute called the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in their idea of the Clip-Air, suggest a design where pods can be attached to the underbelly of a blended wing aircraft. Instead of having parts that open and cranes that lift and load, the same concept can be applied onto these ‘flying locomotives’ and these pods can comprise of anything – be it passengers or different types of cargo. At the airport, the pods must simply be replaced for the airliner to take off again. A lot of time and money saved.
Country of Origin: France