Marta Dimitrova speaks to Ryan Kelly, Head of Marketing and Communications, Virgin Hyperloop One, who shares the latest milestones in the development of hyperloop – the highspeed technology concept that is reinventing transportation to eliminate the barriers of distance and time.
The story of hyperloop goes a long way back to when sci-fi writers and visionaries dreamed of ways to travel at high speeds through low-pressure tubes. Today, this vision has come a lot closer to reality with the development of hyperloop – the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Elon Musk.
So, how does it work? Passengers or cargo are loaded into the hyperloop vehicle and accelerated gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube. The vehicle floats above the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag.
Although associated with the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, hyperloop technology has been explicitly open-sourced and others have been encouraged to take the idea further and develop it. One such company is Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO), which is leading the way in these efforts and is working on exciting projects in the Middle East, Europe, India, Canada and the US.
Just a few weeks ago, the Government of Maharashtra deemed hyperloop a public infrastructure project, setting it up to be the first-ever operational hyperloop system in the world, connecting Pune and Mumbai in under 35 minutes, as opposed to 3.5 hours. “This is a landmark announcement for building the Pune-Mumbai hyperloop transportation system, recognising hyperloop technology alongside other more traditional forms of mass transit,” Ryan Kelly, Head of Marketing and Communications, Virgin Hyperloop One, tells Airport Business.
Redefining the end-to-end passenger experience
While today on-demand travel is still novel, tomorrow it will be an expectation. “On-demand, direct, autonomous – the VHO system is a mass transportation solution that can meet the consumer demands of the coming century.”
Kelly continues: “Rideshare companies have already disrupted traditional transportation by providing on-demand service in a matter of minutes. This convenience is indisputable, but it is still built around the limited capacity of automobiles. Imagine this kind of service integrated into mass transit: no traffic, no delays, and no direct emissions.”
From a passenger perspective, hyperloop is expected to enable a faster and vastly smoother experience. In the future, journeys would start by travelling to a hyperloop airport check-in portal located in the heart of cities. At the hyperloop portal, travellers would check-in for their flight, including dropping off their bags and undergoing security checks.
VHO’s vision goes way beyond the passenger experience. By connecting two distant airports, hyperloop can effectively create one mega airport. Kelly points out: “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.”
Beyond its complementarity in urban transport connectivity, hyperloop could also replace some short haul flights, potentially providing faster-than-air travel times with significantly reduced emissions.
Opportunity or threat?
So, what does hyperloop mean for the aviation industry? It is, indeed, likely that hyperloop is going to disrupt short-haul and domestic routes. But Kelly insists that the opportunities hyperloop can create are what the industry needs to focus on. “We see hyperloop as a way augmenting and improving air travel – helping airports expand capacity by connecting regional airports into one mega airport and improving the experience of travelling to airports.”
With Hyperloop One expected to launch full passenger operations by 2029, airlines and airports have a decade to come up with a contingency plan and further explore the synergies that could be created by this technology.