Aviation vs. Hyperloop

Candice eetimesWhile I LOVE the idea of Thinking Big… this latest hype regarding Hyperloop as the future of transportation flies in the face of economic efficiencies.  There is a reason that airlines took over most of the long distance travel business away from trains.  It can be summed up in simplistic terms by a common aphorism in aviation circles; “A mile of road gets you one mile.  A mile of runways gets you the world.”  The cost of tens of thousands of miles of hyperloop track makes no economic sense when compared to the much lower cost of runways.  While the cost of a hyperloop vehicle is roughly the same as the cost of an aircraft, per passenger seat.

Oh… and we aren’t even talking about the security problems with tens of thousands of miles of hyperloop track!

Presumably, Elon Musk is betting big on hyperloop, but not by direct developement of above ground track… but by learning about putting it under ground with the giant boring machines he’s bought.  Note that he is focusing boring tunnels under cities?  While everyone else is dreaming about long distance travel, Mr. Musk has already figured out that that is a losing bet and is instead looking at metropolitan subway systems using high-speed hyperloops.  Even the name suggests that he knows this… as in a loop around a city.  Here, the concept DOES make sense, as our current light rail and subway systems are hopelessly antiquated and slow.  The future of metropolitan mass transit is the hyperloop.

Any distance over 200 – 300 miles will continue to be served best by aviation.  The type of aircraft will change in the near future.  First will come electric/turbine hybrids, then pure electric w/ hydrogen fuel cells.  This will allow a new mix of short haul multi-rotor “drone” style aircraft and medium haul tilt-rotor fixed wing aircraft to handle the premium travel business.  Long haul will continue to be fixed wing.

Interestingly, Musk is hinting that the very long haul travel may best be served by orbital rocket.  Here, the economics are all about reusability.  Aleady we have seen limited reusability of rockets.  But the turn around needs to be in hours, not months.  This goal looks to be attainable and Musk is positioning himself for just this.

The future of travel will finally get a much needed upgrade.


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