At this week's Paris Air Show, a research team from Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne unveiled their wicked idea for air travel: Break the airplane into pieces. Their Clip-Air concept calls for the wings, engine and cockpit to be one unit, and the cargo it's carrying to be a separate unit that attaches to the bottom.
This is a brilliant idea, for several reasons. One is that airlines could clip a variable number of "capsules" on the bottom depending on how busy the route was. It's well-known that airlines lose money when flights aren't full, and allowing them to clip only as many modules as needed onto the bottom of the plane would save on fuel. It would also lead to less overbooking hassles, which are a direct result of airlines desperately trying to fill flights.
Secondly, those capsules don't need to be filled with passengers. Airlines could partner with FedEx and the like to haul cargo tubes alongside passengers. The capsules could even be used to hold the plane's own fuel, if it ran on a bulky source like hydrogen, for instance.
Thirdly, by decoupling the flying mechanism with the load-hauling part, airlines could reconfigure, maintain, and/or replace one or the other independently.
Take a closer look at the system, and let us know what you think: