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TheStreet Open House

Air Travel Changes At Less Than Supersonic Speed

Many plane manufacturers let the military lead the way because the armed forces have the money to play with new technologies, test them extensively and then figure out how to build them efficiently.

"We let the military test it, prove it," McCluskey said. "I think what we have to understand is that aircraft are vehicles, they have to be safe and have to follow certifications."

But he predicted that within the next 10 years, planes won't contain a fuselage â¿¿ where the cabin and cockpit are now. They'll just be one flying wing. Like a fighter jet. Or the gone, but-not-forgotten Concorde, which cut the flight time from London to New York to 3 hours and 20 minutes from nearly eight hours.

So what happened to the Concorde? The same thing that happened to the industry at large: the economy.

The Concorde was heavily subsidized by the French and British governments and as the industry declined in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it became clear it was no longer viable.

While the experience of air travel has changed little, its global popularity has grown almost exponentially in the past two decades. In its 20-year outlook, Boeing Co. predicted the commercial aircraft fleet would double by 2034, with most of the new passengers in Asia and Latin America, where standards of living are rising quickly. But increased demand and the rising price of fuel have forced manufacturers to focus all their innovation know-how on fuel economy.

In the last 10 years, "the price of a barrel of oil has gone up, say from 25 bucks to over 100," said Jim Stoker, president of GE Aviation Czech. "If you go look at your airline ticket, well, it's higher than it was 10 years ago, it's still not four (times) higher."

That leads to the composites and lightweight metals that were the stars of the Paris Air Show. Both shave weight off planes, making them more efficient to fly. Composites also endure damage better, extending an aircraft's life.

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