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Future Transportation

ACRP Periodic Report on Transformative Technologies at Airports
- May 7, 2021

Technology Description

Recent technological advancements have allowed travelers access to increased transportation options. Growing population density, increasing work and leisure travel, and the demand for accessible transportation have led to investment in new and transformative forms of personal transportation. These business and operational models, while still in their infancy, stand to impact many aspects of the aviation industry. Airport operators must stay aware of these transportation types, their target markets, and how an airport organization can adapt to or incorporate these new technologies.

Future transportation is a catch-all term that this Publication has defined as new forms and methods of transportation technology that provide personal or mass transportation to customers. This can include new technology, new propulsion sources, and new methods of providing travel. Some transportation method examples include the following:

  • Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles: Vehicles capable of taking off and landing without the need for long runways.
  • Autonomous vehicles (AVs): Vehicles capable of operation with little to no human intervention. 
  • Hyperloop transportation: A vehicle that operates using a magnetic levitation track within a low-pressure tube for high-speed travel. The low air pressure combined with the magnetic track allows for reduced aerodynamic drag for efficient travel.

These technologies are in various degrees of development, and their advancement may have differing degrees of impact on each other and on airport operations. And while they are not all directly related to air travel, they do impact the main objective of airport organizations: providing transportation to customers. Today, air travel is generally the most efficient method of travel for medium- and long-distance travel. However, the challenges and costs associated with air travel may allow competitors to enter the transportation market. Airport organizations stand to lose growth for medium-length trips from technologies such as AVs, VTOL vehicles, and the Hyperloop. New fuel sources, like electric motors, may bring with them new infrastructure requirements that airports must be designed to support. Airport operators may need to incorporate ways to leverage these new technologies into their operations or be aware of changes in passenger travel trends that may impact airport growth.

This Publication classifies these technologies within the Advanced Transformation Tier due to the potential to impact the core objective of airport operations. While airport organizations may be able to leverage their core competencies and incorporate some of this future technology into their operations, the remaining technologies may advance in ways for which the airport industry is not ready. This impact on passenger numbers and flight revenue may begin to significantly impact airports. However, if the aviation industry can identify ways in which it can leverage these new technologies, airports can remain at the hub of the passenger transportation industry into the next decade.


Until real-world deployments begin, airport operators will likely not understand the full impact that future transportation methods will have on their airport environment. This article outlines many of the high-profile impacts that airport operators may expect from future transportation as technology usage increases. Following the impact list, two notable impacts are detailed further.



  • Potential to reduce airport passenger numbers
  • Must budget accordingly to accommodate new technology
  • New competition for riders

Technical/Infrastructure Readiness

  • Accommodation for new fuel offerings
  • Airport infrastructure to accommodate new types of vehicles and support their operations

Process/Skill Set Changes

  • Accommodate new operational process requirements for new fuel sources and vehicle types
  • Airport operations and flight control must accommodate potential new types of vehicles into the airport property

Passenger Experience/Passenger Process

  • Accommodating new passenger demographics in passenger experience and process design
  • Potential reductions in ridership
  • Accommodation of multi-modal passenger travel in passenger journeys


  • Changes to the security process to account for new travel types

Airport Design/Construction

  • Design flexibility to account for changes in transportation services
  • Adapting infrastructure and airport layout to changing passenger demographics
  • Designing flexible airport infrastructure to accommodate multi-modal travel

Revenue/Business Model

  • New revenue sources based on the inclusion of new transportation methods into airport operation
  • Reduction in aviation revenue as passenger counts decline
  • New technology may change how airport business models work and how airlines and airports earn revenue


  • New legal requirements for the various fuel and vehicle types
  • Existing airline contracts that may impact responsiveness to new transportation methods

Featured Impacts

Accommodating new passenger demographics in passenger experience and process design: As alternate, future forms of transportation begin to gain market share within the travel industry, the general demographics of airport passengers may be impacted. New transportation services can provide additional offerings to address the needs of new passenger types, whether that be speed (in the case of Hyperloop technology), personalized travel (in the case of autonomous vehicles), or efficient short-distance travel (offered by vertical takeoff and landing vehicles). Airport organizations may need to specialize in their operations to better meet the travel needs within their market segment. Airport operators must monitor changes to passenger trends to tailor the services offered to customer demand.

Designing flexible airport infrastructure to accommodate multi-modal travel: Airport organizations can potentially take steps to remain at the center of the traveling process. However, to remain central to travel, they should consider the inclusion of other popular transportation methods into future strategic planning. To accommodate these transportation methods, organizations must analyze and design the passenger process throughout the passenger journey. Notably, airport design must not only accommodate air travel but also include all new or potential methods of transportation.


To better understand future transportation methods, airport operators should gain a better understanding of their specific attributes. This article explores the operating factors of future transportation methods and related usage characteristics. Understanding these attributes will help airport operators determine applicable use cases for future transportation and how their organization can support it.

Level of Airport Control

The airport industry will have very little, if any, control over the development and adoption of future transportation methods. Private companies will lead the charge in the technological developments necessary to advance various future forms of technology. Although not in control of the development, airport operators must monitor the trajectory of various future technologies to understand how the travel and airport industries will be impacted by their use.

Customer Culture Changes/Cultural Impacts

New transportation methods can impact aspects of customer culture as travelers are presented with new options to get from one place to another. Passengers may begin to expect new services or become accustomed to certain processes, depending on the method of travel with which they are most familiar. Airport organizations will want to understand the passenger journeys of other modes of transportation to identify ways they can incorporate these passengers into the airport process.

Notably, new transportation options may bring new business models based on aspects of how they plan to transport passengers. New transportation methods may earn revenue through different methods than current aviation business models. As with many business innovations, if successful, airport organizations may be pressured to incorporate aspects of these business models.

Use Cases/Business Effect

With every new or emerging technology, there are two basic questions an airport operator asks: “How can my airport use this?” and “How does this affect my business, even if my airport doesn’t wish to use it for our own benefit?” This article provides answers to both of these questions, addressing the airport uses cases and business effect of future transportation technologies.

Use Cases

As future transportation methods advance to a point of being cost-effective with widespread adoption, potential use cases become available for airport operators to incorporate into their organizations.

Offer Multi-modal Transportation Options

Airport operations may soon need to incorporate multiple modes of transportation within the airport. Airports may remain transportation hubs for future transportation options that require new processing methods. Airports must also accommodate the operational requirements needed to support these technologies. Traditional passenger journeys may change dramatically as passengers connect through multiple modes of transportation with distinct processes.

Integration with Current Airport Hubs

Airport organizations can look for ways to incorporate the operation of future transportation methods into the airport property. For example, portions of the airfield could be designated for vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, or portions of terminal design could be adjusted to accommodate Hyperloop travelers. Organizations adapting current airport design and processes to accommodate future transportation methods can remain hubs within a passenger’s transportation journey.

Business Effect

Whether or not an airport chooses to employ future transportation options for its own benefit, future transportation solutions that are not directly initiated/driven by the airport organization may have an effect on aspects of the airport’s operations.

Reduction in Passenger Numbers

Certain forms of future transportation may prove to be direct competitors to the air travel industry. As these modes of transportation grow their service networks, a passenger may be presented with new travel options. Airport organizations will need to keep an eye on the ridership trends of future transportation methods to identify pending impacts to air travel passenger numbers.

Offer New Competitive Transportation Services

Airports may be forced to add new service offerings or adjust operations to compete with new transportation services. Airports may have to pursue new passenger segments and adjust their offerings to appeal to new markets.

Tiered Approach

Airport operators interested in new or emerging technologies, such as future transportation methods, will differ in their levels of risk tolerance. Some organizations are comfortable at the forefront of technology and have the resources to support innovation. Other organizations are interested in simply exploring how they can incorporate future transportation solutions within their limited resources.

This article takes a tiered approach to future transportation solutions, providing use cases that are separated by the following innovation tiers: Reactive, Strategic, and Innovative.


Accommodating New Aircraft Fuel Sources

As airlines increase investment into alternative fuel solutions, like electric aircraft, airport organizations will need to support the infrastructure needed for the operation and maintenance of these types of aircraft. Although the switch to alternative fuel systems will be driven by airlines, airport organizations will be pressured to update existing infrastructure so as to not limit operations.


Incorporating New Aircraft Types

Airport organizations can incorporate newer types of aircraft into their current operations. For example, vertical takeoff and landing vehicles or fully autonomous aircraft can leverage existing airport infrastructure to operate. However, flexibility must be included in airport design to account for new aircraft types and different needs in passenger processing.


Incorporating Multi-modal Transportation Methods

Airport properties could be sites at which multiple modes of transportation interact. Hyperloop transportation, autonomous vehicles, and a range of other future transportation methods may soon use existing airport networks as operating facilities. Airport organizations will need to oversee extensive infrastructure changes and completely overhaul operational methodologies to incorporate the operational requirements of new transportation modes.

Industry Status

Exploring future transportation deployments in both aviation and non-aviation industries can provide airport operators with a better understanding of the technology as a whole. This article outlines the current state of future transportation solutions from both perspectives.

Aviation Industry

Electric Aviation

With a greater focus on sustainability, airlines are looking into new fuel technology. With the recent tests of the first electric-powered commercial plane, airlines may begin to invest more heavily in the technology. [1]

Non-aviation Industry

Hyperloop Transportation

While still quite a way from public deployment, recent updates are beginning to pave the way for this technology. Recent design competitions have broken a new speed record of 288 mph for a Hyperloop capsule.[2] The European Committee for Standardization had talked about standardization around Hyperloop technology.[3] Both advancements are helping to bring Hyperloop technology into reality.

Vertical Takeoff and Landing

Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) technology is gaining investments from large transportation companies looking to revolutionize travel. For example, Uber began to show innovations around a VTOL service and started outlining how the technology may integrate with its current operations.[4],[5]

Autonomous Mass Transit

Autonomous taxis and shuttles have entered the market, allowing for the transportation of passengers in less controlled areas. Technology and ride-sharing companies are driving much of the innovation, with Uber, Lyft, and Google all looking to provide ride-hailing services operated through autonomous vehicles. Waymo advised it is preparing to offer shuttle rides to passengers without a backup driver.[6]

Technology Interaction

Technology solutions may enable or be supported by other types of technologies. In some cases, the advancement of one technology may be vital to the effective use of another. This article highlights some of the high-level ways that future transportation methods may leverage the functionality of other technologies or be used to enhance the functionality of another technology. As solution development continues, integrations with other technologies may become more evident.

5G Wireless

5G, or fifth generation, infrastructure will be needed to support not only the communications infrastructure used by future transportation solutions but also the data communication of passengers on those services. The 5G network provides the lower latencies necessary to both operate at high speed and provide connectivity to autonomous solutions.


Robotics may play a role in how these vehicles are serviced and maintained. Robotic solutions may help cut costs and improve efficiency, which will be necessary for these new transportation solutions to take hold in the market.

Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomy may play a large role in many of the future transportation solutions. The ability to operate with minimal or no human intervention allows for new options in operational efficiency. This also helps provide on-demand and around-the-clock operations to support the business models of these services.

Technology Barriers

As with other technologies noted in this Publication, there are market forces or obstacles in development that present barriers to the deployment and widespread adoption of these future transportation solutions. Keeping abreast of these barriers can help airport operators know when to expect to see wider use of this technology in the public and when they should look to reassess it for their own use. This article outlines the current state of future transportation barriers.

Further Research and Development for a Transportation Solution

Many next-generation transportation technologies are still in the early stages of development. Many factors must still be explored before these solutions are ready for human ridership, including the installation of extensive operating networks and the development of cost-effective vehicles.

Infrastructure and Fueling Network Development

A new infrastructure and fueling network must be developed and built to support these new technologies. Extensive governmental intervention and planning will be needed to build effective nationwide support networks for these new forms of transportation.

Commercialization and Business Model Development

Since these potential future transportation solutions are still in the early stages of development, the technology must mature before effective business plans can be developed around them. This includes service offerings that appeal to customers and compete with other forms of current transportation.