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Mon 25 Feb 2008 12:32 PM

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The world is not enough

It's often said the air travel industry has made the world a smaller place, and if recent reports are accurate, it's set to shrink further.

The world is not enough

It's often said the air travel industry has made the world a smaller place. If recent reports are accurate, it's set to shrink further, with globe trotters spending even less time hopping between continents.

This month, aircraft manufacturer Reaction Engines claimed to have developed a plane that can fly from Europe to Australia in five hours. The A2 hypersonic aircraft would reach Mach 5, travelling almost 4000 mph with some 300 passengers on board.

Such technology is unlikely to be available any time soon, with a launch date expected no earlier than 2033. But Reaction Engine is confident the aircraft will eventually hit the market. Whether this is good news for the Middle East aviation industry is debatable.

According to some analysts, a plane that can cover huge distances in short periods spells disaster for the region. The concern is that aircraft would no longer have to refuel in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, making the stopover hubs largely redundant. It's a valid point, with long-haul carriers flying to Asia or Australia likely to pass the Middle East if the aircraft becomes operational.

But the upside is Dubai's booming tourism trade, which is expected to attract millions in the coming years. The government is confident continual investment in hotels, bars and attractions will help lure more people to the emirate. If this is the case, airlines will continue landing in Dubai, regardless of whether or not they need to refuel.

By the time hypersonic planes hit the market most airlines may have already replaced their existing fleet with solar-powered aeroplanes. Indeed, aircraft developer Solar Impulse recently said a plane that flies without fuel and produces no emissions is under development.

In 2011, two Solar Impulse directors will be on board as the plane flies around the world. When available, the aircraft should be popular among Middle East carriers determined to reduce carbon emissions.

It's unclear if and when the solar-powered plane will take to the skies. But there appears little doubt that global carriers operating environmentally-friendly or hypersonic planes will continue flying to the Middle East.

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alexander 12 years ago

You're persisting in giving Reaction Engines' claims credence: surely there has to be a question as to the viability of their plans, and the relevance of their design outlines - particularly with reference to the EU funded vehicle story you ran. Reaction Engines is quoted as saying it is to develop an EU funded hypersonic vehicle, the A2, that could take you from Dubai to San Francisco in four hours. But the EU hasn’t agreed to funding any vehicle proposals – in fact, the A2 concept is a bit of Eagle comic fantasy that would appear to have little, if anything, to do with the development of LAPCAT (Long-term advanced propulsion concepts and technologies), which is the actual 36-month EU project to invest in developing engine and propulsion technology for the long-term development of suborbital vehicles that Reaction Engines forms a small part of - and not, to my knowledge, a part that is intended to propose a holistic vehicle/propulsion solution. I'd be interested in more insight here...