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Air Travel… By Train?

Could catching a plane be as easy as boarding a train?

Swiss designers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) technology institute think so.

At the recent Paris Air Show, they unveiled a unique, futuristic design for modular aircraft, which will allow passengers to board a plane at a railway station in one city and disembark at their destination city… without ever setting foot in an airport.

Yes… you read that right. Board a plane at a railway station!

It’s called Clip Air – and combines the quick convenience of rail travel with the greater speed of flying.

The planes basically have all the features of a regular aircraft – wings, cockpit, engines, fuel and landing gear. But there’s a key difference…

This equipment would attach to capsules, which are self-contained airline fuselages. Passengers would board at a railway station like a regular commuter train and are then transported along the tracks to the airport for the flight phase. Once at the airport, the capsule is attached to the flying wing. The airport part is eliminated.

As chief designer, Claudio Leonardi, says, passengers would then be “clipped under the wings of the plane, which will transport him to the next airport, then unclipped and carried to the city center.”

The beauty of the system is that these capsules can be mixed and matched between passengers and freight in a more flexible way, according to demand at any given time. As a result, the team says it’s more environmentally friendly, as half-empty flights would be rare.

For example, three capsules would be able to transport 450 people – as many as three Airbus A320s with half as much engine power.

Leonardi does admit that there are obstacles to overcome – including security issues. So the appeal not entering an airport might not be 100% realistic, with passengers needed to enter a terminal to be checked.

Check it out for yourself below…

Ultimately, Leonardi says companies could own their own capsules instead of private jets: “The next stage would be to leave the airport zone inside the capsules and return directly to a company’s offices.” So in effect, “companies would be able to own a ‘plane,’ which doesn’t have wings, doesn’t have a cockpit and doesn’t have a motor.”

The team at EPFL has worked in Clip Air since 2009 and while its appearance at the Paris Air Show garnered some publicity for the innovation, it remains a long-term project that’s still entrenched in the testing phase.