Concorde Would Still Beat Hyperloop

High-speed trains now compete with airlines for short-haul routes.

The fastest high-speed train in operation is limited by a maximum speed of 431 km/h, although trains have reached speeds of 603 km/h in testing.

Hyperloop is a proposed new mode of passenger and freight transportation that propels a pod-like vehicle through a near-vacuum tube at airline speeds. Top speeds of 1200 km/h have been touted. To put that in perspective a Boeing 777-200-LR, one of the fastest commercial jets in operation has a maximum operation speed of 1037 km/h.

What could a world with interconnected Hyperloop routes look like?

Methodology

Given Hyperloop is still in development phase, with some limited testing completed, much of this post takes into account assumptions about what is possible (speeds, geography, engineering limitations etc).

Many of the routes I’ve considered¬†are already in operation — served either by plane or train. Distances for these routes via Hyperloop are very rough given I have not considered geography in any detail. That said,¬†because of the physics involved Hyperloop needs a very straight track.

The aim of this post is to provide a basic overview of what could be made possible with Hyperloop.

Analysis

Maximum operating speeds

Max operating speed by mode of transport

Download chart.

The fastest of each mode of transport currently in operation are considered: Hyperloop, Boeing 777-200LR (plane), Shanghai Maglev (train).

Hyperloop is most similar to the existing train networks. The difference between current high-speed trains and Hyperloop is massive (1200 km/h vs. 431 km/h — almost 3 times faster.).

Average Speeds for Popular Air / Rail Routes

Plane vs train vs Hyperloop

Download chart.

For the above 5 routes, all of which show actual times for plane and train journeys, the train is always the slowest (almost twice as slow as a plane for most routes).

Travelling by plane would be¬†the second quickest option, with Hyperloop coming a clear first for all routes (in some cases Hyperloop is almost 4 times quicker on some routes — Paris to Lyon, and twice as quick as taking the plane on others).

It is important to note these figures only consider time spent moving, excluding check-in time, etc.

There are a number of cities currently considering implementing Hyperloop. LA to San Francisco, Dubai to Abu Dhabi, Helsinki to Stockholm, etc. Most of these routes are well below 1000km, as are the routes considered above with the exception of Beijing to Shanghai at just over 1000km apart. At an estimated $19.1 million USD per kilometre, cost is the biggest inhibiting factor to a longer Hyperloop routes at present.

Did you know? It will cost an estimated $2.65 billion USD ($19.1MM USD x 139km) to build a Hyperloop route between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Hyperloop potential

Concorde once circumnavigated the globe in 32 hours 49 minutes and 3 seconds, starting and ending its journey in New York, via Toulouse, Dubai, Bangkok, Guam, Honolulu, Acapulco, to refuel and then back to New York JFK (a total of 36,787.6 km).

Assuming Hyperloop took the same journey at its average estimated speed of 970 km/h (which unlike a plane would not need to account for refuelling time), it would take almost 38 hours (36787.6 km/970 km/h). That’s 5 hours slower than Concorde.

Hyperloop round the world

Full map.

The circumference of Earth at the equator is about 24,874 miles (40,030 km), but from pole-to-pole ‚ÄĒ the meridional circumference ‚ÄĒ Earth is only 24,860 miles (40,008 km) around. This shape, caused by the flattening at the poles, is called an oblate spheroid. A “true” round-the-world journey circling¬†the equator would take over 41.3 hours (40030 km¬†/970 km/h) at a cost to build of $764.6 billion USD (40030 km¬†* $19.1 million USD per km).

Improvements

As discussed, many of these calculations are very rough. When Hyperloop gets closer to a production version where better estimates are available the calculations used can be improved.

tl;dr

Concorde once circumnavigated the globe in 32 hours 49 minutes and 3 seconds, the same route on Hyperloop would take almost 38 hours.

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It’s Cheaper To Take An Uber To The Airport, And Back

Uber has been fighting continuing battles with major cities and their traditional licensed cab drivers for years now. In some cities this has resulted in legal rulings banning Uber drivers from operating completely.

However it’s not just cities taking aim at¬†the taxi app. Airports are also drawing battle lines with the company¬†in an effort to protect revenues.

The ease of catching a cab is often paramount for weary travellers, but many are still very price-sensitive even after the longest of flights.

But are the costs of Uber rides on fiercely competitive (and regulated) airport journeys cheaper then traditional taxis (as they are in cities)?

Methodology

I was able to calculate fares for Uber journey costs from airports on their website (UK & US) (April 2016).

These could then be compared with traditional taxi fare data available from TfL (UK) and Taxi Fare Finder (UK & US) (April 2016).

The Black Taxi

The Black Taxi an icon of London. In recent years Black Taxi drivers have been losing market share of passengers travelling overground to minicabs (often operated by taxi apps, like Uber). The situation is so bad, TfL (who operate Black Cabs), are struggling to recruit new Black Cab drivers.

Queue a fierce fight between TfL and Uber.

One that almost saw Uber being banned from the British capital altogether in 2015 but for a small technicality about wether the app constituted a taximeter. But technicalities aside; why are consumers switching to taxi apps?

Analysis

Uber Services

Uber vs Black Taxi Journey Costs in London

Download chart.

Service Ave Fare (1 mile) GBP Ave Fare (2 mi) GBP Ave Fare (4 mi) GBP Ave Fare (6 mi) GBP
UberX 5.18 7.25 10.95 15.10
UberX (1.9x surge) 9.83 13.78 20.81 28.69
UberX (2.5x surge) 12.94 18.13 27.38 37.75
UberEXEC 9.25 13.30 20.50 28.60
UberLUX 13.78 20.35 31.85 45.00
UberXL 10.53 13.45 18.85 24.70
Black Taxi (Mon-fri (06:00-20:00)) 7.20 11.20 18.50 26.00
Black Cab (Mon-fri (20:00-22:00), Sat-sun (06:00-22:00)) 7.30 11.50 19.00 30.00

Full table.

UberX rides are generally cheaper than traditional Black Cabs, unless the dreaded surge pricing is in effect.

For example, the more expensive Black Taxi Fare would cost ¬£7.30 GBP to go 1 mile. An UberX would cost only ¬£5.18 GBP. However, during periods of high demand where 1.9x and 2.5x surge pricing is in effect the same journey would cost you ¬£9.83 GBP and ¬£12.94 GBP respectively through Uber — potentially well over twice the price of a Black Taxi.

Uber Services To / From London airports

Registered taxis in London (Hackney Carriages, not necessarily Black Taxis) have strictly regulated fares from its many airport into the city.

Uber vs Taxi cost from airport to Paddington Station, London

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London Heathrow (T5) – Paddington St GBP (ave) Gatwick South¬†— Paddington St GBP (ave) Stansted – Paddington St GBP (ave) Luton- Paddington St GBP (ave) City- Paddington St GBP (ave)
uberX 37.00 96.00 74.50 46.50 28.50
uberX (1.9x surge) 55.50 144.00 111.75 69.75 42.75
uberX (2.5x surge) 92.50 240.00 186.25 116.25 71.25
uberXL 56.00 149.50 114.00 89.50 40.00
UberEXEC 71.00 135.50 104.50 82.50 55.00
UberLUX 109.50 283.50 221.50 171.00 88.50
Taxi (Mon-fri (06:00-20:00)) 67.40 125.60 78.80 59.90 40.60

Full table.

Many registered taxis and private hire cars pay surcharges to airports (often passed on to passengers directly). Uber drivers are also liable for such charges.

Even so, UberX rides are considerably cheaper from all London airports — almost ¬£50 GBP cheaper from Gatwick South Terminal to Paddington Station.¬†Only recently did Uber scrap flat fees from London airports which could¬†have potentially made these journeys even cheaper.

Registered taxis sit somewhere between UberX and UberXL services, and are the second cheapest option when compared to the other services Uber offers.

Uber To / From US airports

Lets change colours to the bright yellow of the second most iconic taxi, the New York City Cab (and the less iconic taxis of San Francisco and Chicago). And yes, both these cities have had their disagreements (like the London Black Cabs), to put it lightly, with Uber.

Uber vs Taxi cost from US airport to major landmark

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JFK – Grand Central (ave) USD SFO – Market St (low) USD ORD – Chicago Union (ave) USD
uberX 59.00 25.00 33.00
uberXL 88.50 37.00 56.50
UberBLACK 116.50 68.00 88.00
UberSUV 145.50 84.00 111.50
Taxi (Mon-fri (06:00-20:00)) 64.73 64.69 52.45

Full table.

Like London, the UberX service comes out much cheaper than choosing a taxi in all cities. In San Francisco and New York the fares are staggeringly cheaper. In New York UberX services are about $20 USD cheaper, and in San Francisco almost $40 cheaper!

Improvements

Uber operates in 81 countries (Oct 2016). In the US and UK cities considered, UberX is cheaper than traditional taxis to and from airports. I would be interested to learn if the same was true in the 79 other countries.

tl;dr

UberX services from airports are cheaper than registered taxis from airports.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.

High-Speed Rail Is Killing Short-Haul Air Travel

Planes dominate our skies. According to some estimates there are about 100,000 flights, everyday (about 25% of which are flown by low-cost airlines). Where trains were once the best ways to travel 700km, many are now choosing to fly instead.

But long-distance train travel has seen a recent explosion in many countries with the growth of high-speed rail networks. Bullet trains were once only associated with Japan (they have been operating in the country since 1964!). Though today high-speed trains are much common across the world.

As high-speed rail networks grow, as does their viability to compete with equivalent plane routes.¬†China Southern Airlines, China’s largest airline, expects the construction of China’s high-speed railway network, the largest in the world by a large margin, to impact (through increased competition and falling revenues) 25% of its route network in the coming years.

But how do the two forms of transport currently stack up around the world?

Methodology

Train and plane routes used for comparison were selected to test the following statement on the “High-speed rail” Wikipedia page:

“High-speed rail (HSR) is best suited for journeys of 1 to 4¬Ĺ hours (about 150‚Äď900¬†km or 93‚Äď559¬†mi)”.¬†For trips under about 700¬†km (430¬†mi), the process of checking in and going through airport security, as well as traveling to and from the airport, makes the total air journey time equal to or slower than HSR.¬†European authorities treat HSR as competitive with passenger air for HSR trips under 4¬Ĺ hours.”

I chose 5 well trafficked routes of varying distances above and below 700km from places where both air and rail transport is common: Beijing – Shanghai (1318km), Madrid to Barcelona (621km), London to Paris (492km), Tokyo to Osaka (515km), and Paris to Lyon (409km).

Note, the absence of any US cities. Whilst I did some brief research on potential routes in the country, I could find none that posed a current threat to the massive low-cost airline market. Things are changing though.

For train ticket data for journey costs and time I used Seat61 (25/05/2016).

Using data from Skyscanner I collected flight schedules for each route to obtain the fastest flying time between airports. I also used Skyscanner to search for the cheapest possible fares available during the month of September for comparison (25/05/2016).

To estimate carbon emissions for journeys on each mode of transport I used data from the Aviation Environmental Federation.

Train and Plane Route Distance Jun 2016

Download graph.

In order to calculate emissions I needed actual journey distance. Train track length is freely available for the routes I selected. Unfortunately, planes never take an exact route due to weather conditions, delays, air traffic, etc. Because of this I used point-to-point distance between airports. As a result, figures used are less than average actual distances flown.

Results

Speed overview

Model Type Max operating speed (train) / cruise ground speed (plane) km/h
Boeing 777-200LR Plane 1037
Boeing 707-320 Plane 963
Lockheed L-1011-1 Plane 963
Sukhoi Superjet 100-95 Plane 954
Tupolev Tu-414A Plane 950
Boeing 777-200ER Plane 948
Airbus A350-1000 XWB Plane 945
Airbus A350-900 XWB Plane 945
Airbus A350-800 XWB Plane 945
Boeing 777-300 Plane 945
Airbus A380-800 Plane 945
Airbus A350-1000 Plane 945
Shanghai Maglev Train 431
Harmony CRH 380A, Train 380
AGV Italo Train 360
Siemens Velaro E/AVS 103 Train 350
Talgo 350 Train 350
E5 Series Shinkansen Hayabusa Train 320
Alstom Euroduplex Train 320
SNCF TGV Duplex Train 320
ETR 500 Frecciarossa Train Train 300
THSR 700T Train 300

Full table.

This table shows the fastest planes and trains currently operating commercially.

Most modern aircraft cruising speeds are just below 1,000 km per hour. The Boeing 777-200LR is the only commercial airliner that has a cruising speed above this figure at 1,037 km/h Рabout 200 km/h slower than the speed of sound (MACH 1 = 1,236 km/h). The 777s speed is probably one of the reasons it is used on many of the longest non-stop commercial routes.

Did you know? Concorde had an average cruising speed of 2,140 km/h.

The world record for the fastest train belongs to Mitsubishi L0 Series maglev. A speed of 603 km/h was achieved on a test track in April 2015. Whilst world records help push innovation, the sad fact is actual operating speeds for the travelling public are much slower.

The Shanghai Maglev, the fastest train in operation today reaches a max speed of 431 km/h¬†in just over 3 mins 20 secs¬†(it has reached a non-commercial speed of 501 km/h). You won’t be travelling that fast for long, the track is only 30km long¬†and the fastest scheduled journey time to cover the distance is 7 mins 20 secs.¬†The¬†line was designed to connect Shanghai’s Pudong airport to the¬†outskirts¬†of the city so that passengers can quickly connect to¬†metro lines.

The¬†9 other fastest trains in operation¬†travel at speeds between 300 – 380 km/h. The 10th fastest airliner has a cruise speed of¬†945 km/h — over 3 times faster than the slowest train.

Journey Times

Train and Plane Journey Time Jun 2016

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Whilst planes can take more direct routes, stations are usually much more time efficient for passengers. Stations are often found in the middle of cities with great transport links. Take Paris, for example. Charles Du Gaulle Airport is a 29km car journey to the centre of the city. Gare Du Nord is walkable to many hotels in the city.

Check-in times are also much more lenient at stations. Whilst you might need to arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before departure, some international train journeys advise you to arrive 45 mins before departure¬†— a potential time saving of over 2 hours.

Given this, lets assume additional travel time for air travel is +150 minutes and  +60 minutes for rail.

Train and Plane Complete Journey Time Adjusted Jun 2016

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Even taking these factors into consideration, travel times, in most cases, are tipped in favour of the plane for three of these five journeys. Notably all three journeys are below the 900 km / 270 min estimates described as the maximum distance high-speed trains could compete well with air travel.

In China, travelling by plane between Beijing and Shanghai (1077 km by plane, 1318 km by train) could save you over one hour in travel time compared to the train (285 min by plane, 348 min by train).

There is no difference in time (225 min) between each mode of transport on the Madrid to Barcelona route (483 km by plane, 621 km by train) suggesting the optimum distance for high-speed train travel versus plane might be slightly less than 900km / 270 min.

Of course these are very crude assumptions as my adjustments do not take into account accurate door-to-door journey time for each city which can vary enormously.

Did you know? You’ll save the most time taking the Eurostar from London to Paris saving 50 minutes compared to flying.

Average Speeds

Journey Average Speeds

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It is interesting to compare average speed to top speed of the train serving the route.

The Beijing РShanghai route average speed for the journey is only 25 km/h slower than the top speed (275 km/h vs. 300 km/h). The trains are operating close to their allowed safe maximum throughout the route (all 1077 km!).

On other routes the difference between average and maximum is¬†greater. The Eurostar Paris – London route is the second best for speed efficiency (300 km/h vs. 256 km/h). Compare that to the Paris to Lyon route 300 km/h vs. 187.33 km/h — average being almost 40% slower.

Journey Cost

Train and Plane Journey Cost Jun 2016

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I didn’t realise just how expensive riding the bullet train was in Japan. A fare between Tokyo and Osaka will cost you at best, $124 USD. The cheapest airfare between the two cities is 63% cheaper (about $80 USD — $124 – $46) — a difference that would make most leisure travellers think twice. Interestingly it is only the third longest¬†journey of those analysed (463 km by plane / 515 km by train), resulting in a high-cost per km.

For the other four routes there was very little in cost difference between the cheapest tickets. The second greatest ticket cost difference was on the Paris to Lyon route where air travellers could make savings of about $25 USD.

It’s worth noting you’ll also avoid additional charges often imposed by budget carriers on short-haul routes by choosing the train.¬†The train journeys analysed have no additional charges for personal luggage.

Journey Emissions

Train and Plane CO2 Emissions Per Passenger Jun 2016

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According to the Aviation Environmental Federation trains emit 2.5 times less CO2 per passenger than planes (based on optimum fuel efficiency for both modes of transport).

Planes use the most fuel, and produce the most harmful emissions, during takeoff. On short flights, as much as 25 percent of the total fuel consumed is used at this time. The most fuel-efficient route length for airlines is 4,300 km, roughly a flight from Europe to the U.S. East Coast. About 45 percent of all flights in the European Union (and 80% of the routes analysed in this post) cover less than 500 km.

Based on these figures for the journeys analysed it is clear how much more polluting planes are per passenger when compared to trains.

Did you know? Between Beijing and China 100kg more CO2 per passenger will be emitted on plane journeys when compared to a train journey (plane = 188.80 kg/CO2, train = 79.34 kg/CO2).

Summary

Route Plane Distance (km) Train Distance (km) Is train faster? Is train cheaper? Plane cost / time Train time / cost
Beijing-Shanghai 1077 1318 -18.10% 4.94% 0.30 0.23
Madrid-Barcelona 483 621 0.00% 27.78% 0.20 0.16
London-Paris 380 492 28.57% 38.10% 0.26 0.24
Tokyo-Osaka 463 515 12.68% -62.90% 0.19 0.58
Paris-Lyon 392 409 9.95% -31.25% 0.26 0.42

See calculations.

Improvements

Clearly more routes could be used for comparison. 5 routes is too small of a sample size to provide any conclusive findings.

I’d also be interested to obtain passenger load statistics (number of seats occupied for each journey) to improve emissions figures. Although emissions are far less of a concern to consumers, if at all, compared to journey price and time.

Comfort is also a big consideration for travellers. Being able to obtain quantative data-points on passenger comfort would add another variable to base a conclusion on.

tl;dr

  • Trains are faster for journeys up to 620km (track distance).¬†You’ll save the most time taking the Eurostar from London to Paris saving 50 minutes compared to flying.
  • Costs are very sensitive to locale (not distance) for train travel, less so for air travel.¬†In some geographies, for example Tokyo to Osaka (515km by train), you can save over $80 USD when taking the train. Whereas taking the Eurostar from London to Paris you’ll pay $16 USD more for the privilidge. Though these figures do not take into account additional baggage charges often imposed on air travellers.

Acknowledgements

  • Axlegeeks,¬†who provide lots of interesting statistics¬†about aircraft — I used crusing ground¬†speeds.
  • Wikipedia for a wealth of¬†data on high-speed train travel.
  • Skyscanner, where I collected¬†plane journey data from.
  • Seat61, a site¬†that¬†provided train journey data.
  • and finally…¬†The Aviation Environmental Federation for emissions data.

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Airports That Are Unreasonably Far From City Centres

On a journey home from the airport last year I shared a cab with a fellow passenger heading in the same direction. In the awkward small talk between two strangers he asked if I had heard of London Oxford Airport (OXF). “Oxford, in the UK?”, I asked in clarification. “Yes”, he chuckled.

For those not familiar with UK geography, Oxford is over 100km outside of London. A bold, if a little questionable, effort by the airports marketing team.

It would appear Oxford is not alone. See: Paris Vatry (XCR)¬†– 161km to Paris, Oslo Torp (TRF) – 119km to Oslo, or¬†Munich West (FMM) – 115km to Munich, as examples. Arguably none of these are considered their cities “main” airport, however.

Such extreme journeys got me thinking; where are the shortest and longest transfer distances from airports to the cities they serve?

Methodology

To obtain a list of cities for analysis I used¬†Euromonitors’ “Top 100 City Destinations Ranking“. I chose such a list¬†because passengers will expect good infrastructure from heavily travelled destinations and many will be places readers¬†have, or are intending to, visit.

Using EuroMonitors list of cities I then found the closest major airport using a Google search. If there are multiple main airports in a city, airports with the highest yearly passenger volume were selected.

I then used the reported co-ordinates of the geographical centre of each city using a WorldMaps dataset. Similarly, I used the geographical centre of a cities corresponding airport from the OpenFlights dataset to calculate the shortest route by distance on Google Maps using a car from airport to city.

Regional Distribution of Euromonitor Top 100 Cities 2014

Download graph.

It is important to note we are only considering the Top 100 tourist destinations as reported by Euromonitor. This does add some bias to the analysis with 70% of the cities considered located in Europe and Asia Pacific.

Analysis

All airports by distance to their cities

km to City Centre by Road Euromonitor Top 100 2014

Download graph.

km to City Centre by Road Euromonitor 100

Download map.

km to City Centre by Road Euromonitor Top 100 2014 histogram

Download graph.

Did you know? The large majority of Top 100 cities are served by airports within 50km by road to their closest main airport.

Based on the shortest road journey by distance (not time) you will need to travel a median distance of 20km from a main airport to its city (50 of the 100 cities are within 20km of their main airports).

Not all¬†cities¬†on this top 100 list had their own¬†airport.¬†The two cities with the longest connection between airport and city — Andorra la Vella, Andorra (TLS) (194km) and Edirne, Turkey (BOJ) (177km) — are both served by airports¬†from other cities. These two destinations received¬†2.4MM, and 3.1MM tourists respectively, with visitors¬†having to endure connections of around 3-4 hours by car (assuming a 50km/h average speed)!

Best airports by distance to their cities

km to centre (road) rank City Main Airport km to centre (road)
1 Jeju CJU 2.5
2 Heraklion HER 2.9
3 Mexico City MEX 5.3
4 Lisbon LIS 5.9
5 Mumbai BOM 6.5
5 Punta Cana PUJ 6.5
7 Ho Chi Minh City SGN 7.4
7 Nice NCE 7.4
9 Sofia SOF 7.5
10 Florence FLR 8.5

Full table.

Did you know? The airports closest to the main cities they serve are: 3. MEX (5.3 km to Mexico City), 2. HER (2.9km to Heraklion), 1. CJU (2.5km to Jeju).

Worst airports by distance to their cities

km to centre (road) rank City Main Airport km to centre (road)
91 Seoul ICN 48.8
92 Milan MXP 50.3
93 Jerusalem TLV 54.2
94 Kuala Lumpur KUL 66.4
95 Halong HPH 69.8
96 Artvin BUS 77.4
97 Mugla DLM 94.4
98 Makkah JED 103
99 Edirne BOJ 177
100 Andorra la Vella TLS 194

Full table.

Did you know? The airports furthest away from the main cities they serve are: 3. JED (103km to Mekkah), 2. BOJ (177km to Edirne), TLS (194km to Andorra la Vella).

Best regions for airports by distance to their cities

Min, max, median km from main airport to city by region Euromonitor Top 100 Cities 2014

Download graph.

The median distance from a main airport to the city its serves for each world region is less than 40km. If a short car journey is important, a destination in Australia and New Zealand, Central and South America, or Africa would be a good choice (median distance = 15km from main airport to city).

Secondary ‘airports’

Many budget airlines also use secondary airports, London Luton (LUT) or London Oxford Airport (OXF) around London for example. Secondary airports offer airlines lower operational costs compared to more central, main, airports thus ensuring they can maintain the cheapest fare. Consequently they are typically even further away from the city increasing travel times to and from the airport.

Improvements

To get a wider view I downloaded a dataset from OpenFlights listing 8108 airports and their latitude and longitude. I cross reference the cities listed in this dataset for each airport with cities listed in the WorldMaps dataset used earlier. 2231 cities matched between the two datasets.

I then looked at the point-to-point (as the crow flies) distance between two co-ordinates (city and airport) using a Haversine calculation for these 2231 cities and airports. Obviously the resulting distance from this calculation will be much less than actual road distance.

From these 2231 cities and airports I¬†get a median point-to-point distance¬†of¬†just over 7.1km from airport to city — about 13km less than the median distance by road for the Top 100 cities.

There are a number of different factors that could explain for this, in addition to the difference in calculation. Smaller cities often have more centrally located airports because of low building density, for example.

tl;dr

  • 3 airports are over 100km by car from the cities they serve: 3.¬†JED (103km to Mekkah), 2. BOJ (177km to Edirne), TLS (194km to Andorra la Vella).
  • If you’re visiting a top 100 destination, the median¬†distance from a cities main airport to the city centre is about 20km.
  • A¬†destination in Australia and New Zealand, Central and South America, or Africa would be a good choice if a short journey to and from the airport is important (median distance =¬†15km¬†from main airport to city).

Acknowledgements

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