In Ten Years’ Time
Welcome to the second part of The Future of Mobility & Transportation, a white paper focused on the imminent arrival of the autonomous vehicle and how this technology is set to transform the travel industry.
In Part 1, we covered the present day developments driving the push towards widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles, and in this second entry we’re looking ahead to determine the challenges and opportunities airline operators should be preparing for.
Don’t forget to check back with us for Part 3, which looks even further ahead to try and predict new relationships between the various industries responsible for bringing self-driving vehicles to our roads.
Airports and Automation
Airports have long embraced various forms of autonomous travel and can be recognised as pioneers in regards to the implementation of autonomous vehicle systems.
Tampa International Airport was the world’s first major hub to introduce autonomous vehicles to its transport system when it officially launched the Tampa International Airport People Movers all the way back in 1971.
These days most world-class airports feature some form of autonomous vehicle system, as they benefit the airport environment in a number of ways. Reductions in Infrastructure costs and vehicle costs, coupled with increases in labour savings and safety enhancements, are among the chief reasons why airports have pioneered the use of autonomous vehicles.
While airports and autonomous vehicle systems have typically gone hand in hand in the past, the current crop of self-driving cars pose a significant threat to airline operators due to their ability to partially, or in some cases completely, negate the need for an airline operator’s offered services.
Why Fly Where You Can Drive?
The most obvious airline service autonomous vehicles are set to disrupt over the next ten years is the short-haul flight. In particular, domestic flights in the U.S. and flights within Europe could be severely impacted by the advent of the self-driving car.
Flying to a destination will always get you there faster than driving, but the difference in time is considerably less when you factor in how long it takes to travel to the airport, check-in, board, land, pass through customs and collect luggage. After that you need to find the relevant mode of transport to take you from the airport to your final destination, which can take even longer if the airport is located in a different region to where you’re headed.
Self-driving cars can circumnavigate all of the above at the expense of a longer journey, but offer greater comfort and a much simpler trip.
As Michael Goldstein noted in a recent Forbes article about the potential for autonomous cars to disrupt airline services, a four hour flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco may be quicker than an eight hour drive, but by opting for the latter option he will be able to skip the ‘four-hour flight marathon’ and instead sleep safely in the car as it travels to SF.
It’s not hard to imagine that in ten years’ time most people will choose a self-driven car journey over a short-haul flight, if for no other reason than convenience, and as a result it’s imperative that airline operators begin to plan how they will make the profit currently generated by short-haul flights.
The shift in preferred mode of short-distance travelling is somewhat comparable to that of the short-haul flight and the high speed train, a form of transport many predicted would be the death of short-haul flights. Europe has seen the opening of a number of high-speed rail (HSR) lines over the past few decades, and as a recent report from Hindawi titled ‘Air Transport versus High-Speed Rail: An Overview and Research Agenda’ agrees that the introduction of HSR has led to a decline in the short-haul flight market share of air transport due to an increasing number of passengers choosing to travel by train.
This report also highlights the key difference between short-haul flights and HSR, one that enables the short-haul flight to continue to succeed in HSR zones like Europe: highly developed air transport networks. These networks offer passengers a far greater selection of destinations as opposed to train routes, which are typically limited to the stops that lie between the final stations at either end of the route, and have helped the short-haul flight to prevail.
Autonomous cars create their own transport networks and are not limited to following a set track like trains, and therefore pose a more serious risk to short-haul flights than rail networks. However it’s not all doom and gloom for airline operators, as the decimation of the short-haul flight by the autonomous car does present an opportunity to make money from autonomous cars themselves.
The Correlation between Self-Driving Cars and Car Rental Companies
An article published in February by Chris Brown of Auto Rental News highlights this exact opportunity. Titled Mobility 2050: A Path for Car Rental, it predicts a future in which the desire for car ownership is not nearly as prevalent as it is today due to the on-going proliferation of car rental services.
Instead of using a family owned car for various everyday activities (pick up the kids, go to work etc.), family members will instead simply rent a self-driving car every time they require one. It will be a quick and simple process, one that is tailored to answer the consumer’s needs on an individual basis.
This includes travelling back and forth to the airport. Airline operators should seriously consider the probability that large numbers of travellers will use autonomous vehicle services to get to and from the airport in the near future. Indeed, a self-driving car operating a round trip airport service from both the airport the customer is departing from and at the one at their destination, could be offered during the initial flight booking process, enabling airline operators to charge a flat fee for four individual trips. Additionally, airline operators and airports could consider offering long-distance self-driving services to recoup passengers who would prefer to take their time and travel by car.
However, airline operators must now start investing in the technology and infrastructure to support such services. Car rental companies are already partnering with the leading lights of the autonomous vehicle market, as seen by the recent collaborations between Waymo and Avis, and Apple and Hertz among others, but it is vital for airline operators to start exploring this technology as soon as possible to ensure they can keep up with the coming changes.
An Evolving Landscape
Autonomous vehicles will transform the travel industry by providing consumers with an efficient and hassle-free alternative to traditional forms of transport. In order to compete with these changes, airline operators must adapt and greatly broaden their current service offerings, and consider new services like long-distance self-drive offerings. People have long relied on airplanes to cart them to far away destinations, but they might just drop planes in favour of the self-driving car, if it offers a stress-free and comfortable alternative to air travel.
 Source: http://orfe.princeton.edu/~alaink/Presentations/Kornhauser_PassengerTerminalConf%2713_GenevaFinal_031813.pdf
 Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelgoldstein/2017/07/07/how-autonomous-vehicles-will-change-your-travel-experience/#15f637417161
 Source: http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/jat/2017/8426926.pdf
 Source: http://www.autorentalnews.com/channel/rental-operations/article/story/2017/02/mobility-2050-a-path-for-car-rental.aspx
 Source: https://www.curbed.com/2017/6/28/15877298/avis-waymo-self-driving-cars-driverless-rental
 Source: http://jalopnik.com/the-rental-car-companies-will-manage-driverless-car-fle-1796450597
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