Planemakers like Airbus and Embraer are envisioning a future where the airliner looks radically different — take a look at the futuristic concepts

Archer evtol
Reuters
  • The worldwide aviation industry continues to face sustainability concerns and rising fuel prices.

  • To battle the ongoing challenges, airlines are investing in new technologies, like electric planes and biofuels.

  • Some manufacturers are betting on futuristic aircraft, like supersonic jets and hydrogen-powered planes.

As the demand for travel continues to skyrocket post-pandemic, the need for more fuel-efficient and cost-saving aircraft is becoming a bigger priority for airlines.

Passengers are seen at Edinburgh airport.
Passengers are seen at Edinburgh airport.Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Operators are not only battling rising fuel prices, but also environmental concerns from world governments and activists, particularly as aviation-related CO2 emissions rise above 2%.

Airplane flying over trees.
Airplane flying over trees.Gergitek Gergi tavan/Shutterstock

Source: ICAO, ATAG

In November 2021, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg unveiled the country's plan to reach net zero emissions from the aviation industry by 2050.

Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg is taking an even more high-profile turn as he sells a trillion-dollar infrastructure package around the nation. He took his first international trip as a Cabinet member to COP26 in Glasgow last week.Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Source: DOT

US carriers like Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, among others, have accepted the net-zero challenge, particularly through sustainable aviation fuels.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 EcoDemonstrator
An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 EcoDemonstrator.Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines

Meanwhile, several manufacturers, like Boeing and General Electric, have engineered new systems to improve efficiency and performance on current products.

Boeing 737 MAX 7 in Boeing livery. A Southwest 737 MAX 8, a Ryanair 737 MAX 8200, and an Alaska 737 MAX 9 sit behind.
Taylor Rains/Insider

For example, Airbus has improved its best-selling A320ceo narrowbody jet with GE's next-generation LEAP-1A engine to create the A320neo, which reduces fuel burn by 20% compared to its predecessor.

Airbus A320neo
The fuel-efficient engine also reduces operating costs for airlines.Airbus

Source: Safran Group, General Electric, I flew on Spirit Airlines' newest jet and the quiet cabin and modern interior couldn't make up for bare-bones seats and lack of amenities

Meanwhile, Boeing is on its ninth ecoDemonstrator aircraft that tests concept technologies that could be introduced on new planes.

Boeing's 2022 ecoDemonstrator.
The Boeing 2022 ecoDemonstrator will test 30 technologies to enhance safety and sustainability. Shown here, the 2022 ecoDemonstrator – a Boeing-owned 777-200 ER (Extended Range) after being painted in San Bernardino, Calif., in June.Boeing

Boeing's most controversial plane is being used to fight climate change. See inside the new Boeing 737 Max ecoDemonstrator.

For example, this year's Boeing 777-200ER ecoDemonstrator is testing 30 new technologies, like a water conservation system…

Boeing 2022 777-200ER ecoDemonstrator.
Seattle Times

Boeing just unveiled a new 777 'ecoDemonstrator' jet that will test ways to make plane travel safer and more efficient — take a look at the huge testbed

…while Boeing's 2012 737NG ecoDemonstrator provided testing of the MAX's "advanced technology" winglet.

Boeing's 2012 ecoDemonstrator.
Boeing's 2012 ecoDemonstrator.Boeing

Source: Boeing, Air Insight Group

According to Boeing, the AT winglet is the "most efficient ever designed for a production airplane," with the 737 MAX 8 burning 8% less fuel per seat compared to the A320neo.

Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8 takes off from Los Angeles international Airport on July 30, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX 8 takes off from Los Angeles international Airport on July 30, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Source: Boeing

While many innovations have already been created and implemented, the industry is still looking toward the future with outside-the-box technology.

Empty seats in aircraft.
Empty airline seats.Getty Images

Zero-emission electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft and biofuels are proving to be the most popular solutions to the industry's CO2 problem.

archer eVTOL
Archer Aviation

Airlines like United and American are betting on electric air taxis that could change the way we get around and between cities — here's the 8 companies they're partnering with

Moreover, eVTOLs are shaping a new way of travel between airports and congested city centers, while simultaneously reducing noise pollution.

Archer cofounders
Reuters

But, the aviation sector may also see other revolutionary planes hit the market in the next decade or two, like supersonic and hydrogen-powered jets. Take a look at the aircraft of the future.

Boom Supersonic's Overture by a hangar.
Boom Supersonic

Archer Aviation has partnered with United Airlines to create the US' first commercial electric air taxi route, flying between Newark Liberty International Airport and Downtown Manhattan.

Archer Aviation
Archer Aviation

Source: Archer Aviation

The company's four-passenger Midnight eVTOL will power the route, which takes just 10 minutes from the airport to the city, according to Archer.

Archer Aviation Midnight.
Archer Aviation Midnight.Archer Aviation

United Airlines is getting serious about electric flying taxis that ferry passengers to nearby airports. Take a look at the Archer Aviation 'Maker' prototype.

United has also placed a 100-strong order for another electric aircraft — Heart Aerospace's ES19 electric plane.

United Airlines and Heart Aerospace partner to develop an electric aircraft.
United Airlines and Heart Aerospace partner to develop an electric aircraft.United Airlines

Source: Reuters

The 19-seater aircraft is expected to enter service by 2026. The company also has a 30-seater variant that can fly up to 500 miles and has been ordered by Air Canada.

Air Canada Heart Aerospace.
Air Canada

Air Canada just ordered 30 electric planes that can carry passengers up to 500 miles as the race for airlines to cut emissions intensifies

England-based Vertical Aerospace is another manufacturer in the race to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Vx4 is being developed by the UK firm Vertical Aerospace.
Stephen Jones / Business Insider

American Airlines has ordered 250 electric flying taxis to ferry passengers around cities at speeds of up to 200 mph. Take a look at the VX4.

The company has created its VX4 eVTOL, which has amassed over 1,400 orders from carriers like American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Air Asia. The aircraft is expected to enter service in 2025.

Virgin Atlantic VX4.
Virgin Atlantic VX4.Virgin Atlantic

See inside the flying taxis American Airlines and Virgin want to use to carry 4 passengers on 30-minute flights between airports and across cities

In October, Delta made a $60 million investment in an air taxi — Joby Aviation's five-seater eVTOL.

Delta Air Lines at JFK.
Delta Air Lines at JFK.Ron Adar/Shutterstock

Delta just gave the clearest indication yet of how electric flying taxis will change the experience of flying with airlines

The aircraft, which has a 150-mile range, has flown 1,000 test flights over 10 years, per the company, and is expected to enter service as soon as 2024.

Joby Aviation.
Delta Air Lines

Washington-based Eviation has completed the first test flight of one of the industry's newest electric planes — Alice.

Alice.
Eviation

One of the newest electric planes of the future just took its first test flight— meet Alice

The "proof of concept" aircraft will be zero-emission and fly up to 288 miles, according to the company. Cargo carrier DHL is the first to buy the plane with 12 on order.

Interior of Alice as a DHL Express cargo plane.
Interior of Alice as a DHL Express cargo plane.Eviation

Source: DHL

Brazil-based Embraer has founded its own zero-emission eVTOL startup called Eve Air Mobility.

Eve Air Mobility.
Taylor Rains/Insider

United just ordered 200 more flying taxis — see inside Embraer's Eve eVTOL, which can fly up to 150 mph

The four-seater air taxi has a backlog of over 2,000 aircraft, including 200 from United. The carrier expects the first Eve delivery by 2026.

Four seats arranged in two banks sit opposite each other, they have a blue trim.
Inside the passenger cabin of Embraer-backed Eve, eVTOL.Eve Air Mobility

See inside Embraer's 4-seat electric flying taxi that could be shuttling passengers between airports and city centers by 2026

Embraer has also come up with another set of next-generation concept planes known as Energia that will feature different propulsion technologies, like electric, hydrogen fuel cell, gas turbines, and hybrid-electric.

Embraer Energia aircraft.
Embraer Energia aircraft.Embraer

Source: Embraer

These four low or zero-emission planes are designed to carry up to 50 passengers and are expected to enter service by 2030.

Embraer Energia H2 Fuel Cell.
The Embraer Energia H2 Fuel Cell concept is being designed to run on hydrogen, or as a hybrid plane.Embraer

Source: Embraer

Another early-stage concept is Embraer's short-haul turboprop aircraft, which is being engineered to run on 100% SAF, have single-pilot operations, and carry up to 150 passengers.

Embraer new turboprop concept.
Embraer new turboprop concept.Embraer

According to Embraer, the industry will need nearly 11,000 new aircraft with up to 150 seats over the next 20 years, and it is banking on its next-generation technology to meet decarbonization demands.

Embraer concept turboprop.
Embraer concept turboprop.Embraer

Source: Embraer

Embraer is not the only manufacturer with its eye on hydrogen-powered planes. Airbus has launched its ZEROe program, which will include three aircraft — a turbofan, a turboprop, and a blended wing.

Airbus ZEROe planes.
Airbus ZEROe planes.Airbus

Source: Airbus, Airbus has chosen its A380 superjumbo jet to test a hydrogen-powered engine it hopes will fuel future zero-emission aircraft

The planemaker hopes to introduce the aircraft by 2035 and is using the mammoth A380 as its testbed for the technology. According to Airbus, all three planes are designed as hybrid-hydrogen.

Airbus A380 ZEROe demonstrator.
Airbus A380 ZEROe demonstrator.Airbus

Another futuristic technology is the Flying-V designed by engineer Justus Benad, who came up with the design during his time at Airbus Hamberg.

Flying-V concept drawing.
Flying-V concept drawing.Flying-V

Source: Flying-V

The wingspan is the same as an Airbus A350, and the passenger, cargo, and fuel tanks are all inside the structure, per the design. The aircraft's unique "V" shape reduces weight and drag, lowering costs.

Flying-V scale model.
Flying-V scale model.KLM

Source: Flying-V

In partnership with Dutch flag carrier KLM, a small Flying-V prototype was developed by researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and flew its first flight in the summer of 2020 in Germany.

Flying-V scale model in flight.
Flying-V scale model in flight.KLM

Source: Flying-V, KLM

In addition to electric, V-shaped, and hydrogen-powered aircraft, one startup is hoping to fly faster than the speed of sound using 100% SAF.

An overhead view of Boom Supersonic's Overture.
Boom Supersonic

See 7 supersonic passenger-jet concepts that will connect cities in as little as one hour and fly up to 9 times faster than the speed of sound

Colorado-based Boom Supersonic is creating Overture — an ultra-fast plane designed to fly up to 1,300 miles per hour and connect New York and London in just 3.5 hours.

Boom Overture interior.
Boom Supersonic

Boom Supersonic has unveiled the latest design for its ultra-fast airliner that will be able to fly from New York to London in 3.5 hours — see the new Overture

Boom's 100% SAF goal means the jet could operate with net-zero carbon, per the company. So far, United, American Airlines, and Japan Airlines have invested in the jet.

Boom Supersonic United Airlines
A rendering of a Boom Overture aircraft in United Airlines colors.Boom Supersonic

Source: Boom, SCMP, American has ordered 20 Boom Overture supersonic jets and is set to become the largest customer of the ultra-fast plane

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