The coming 10 years will also affect airports. Some larger markets are developing additional airports which will ease traffic congestion. But smaller cities may be at risk. Many regional airlines may abandon some small towns, as tiny airports get squeezed by rising fuel prices and shrinking profits.
What can pilots expect? Changes in federal rules will require additional and more expensive training for new pilots, many of whom will earn a starting salary of about $20,000 a year, said Miller. Experts fear the result will be a temporary shortage of airline pilots, which might force airlines to take on the cost of pilot training. That expense likely would be passed on to consumers.
On the bright side, the coming decade will bring more fuel efficient aircraft. Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner started U.S. routes this month.
Canadian aircraft maker Bombardier's much anticipated CSeries boasts a variable speed, multi-gear engine that aims to save 20% more fuel than its competitors. The first CSeries plane is expected to begin service in 2014.
But what about a little further down the road? At NASA, experts asked a handful of top aircraft designers for their ideas on green airplanes of the future.
Firms like Lockheed Martin offered cool box-shaped wing designs while Boeing and Northrop Grumman played with fascinating "flying wings." Although the NASA program was really just an idea-sharing brainstorming project, some of these futuristic design ideas could very well make the jump to reality by 2025 NASA said, if economic conditions allow.
Whether fuel savings from efficient airliners will be passed on to consumers in the next 10 years depends on a lot of factors. It's possible, said experts, as long as passenger traffic is high and fuel prices are stable.
Letting go of the wheel
California and Nevada have passed laws authorizing driverless or self-driving vehicles, signaling the beginning of a new era.
These computer-controlled cars and trucks are coming, whether or not we feel comfortable about it. The idea is to allow computers to coordinate the safest and most efficient speed and route for each car, thereby reducing wrecks and traffic jams. Nevada and California require the cars to have a human behind the wheel who can take control of the vehicle at any time.
In five years or less, non-experimental self-driving cars are expected to hit California's public roads, says driverless car developer Google. Computer-coordinated vehicles could help cut the estimated 4.2 billion hours Americans spend each year stuck in traffic, according to the society of engineers. All that time costs $710 per driver.
Volvo is working with the European Union on what it calls Road Trains, several self-driving cars connected and coordinated by a wireless signal from a lead vehicle, which is driven by a human. The idea aims to cut highway congestion and save fuel. Bottom line: fewer traffic jams, less pollution, cheaper travel. Road Trains could hit Europe's highways as soon as 2022, according to the European Union.
For Volvo scientist Jonas Ekmark, the driverless era began when he was testing the Road Train. He remembers what it felt like the first time he took his hands off the wheel, effectively putting a computer in the driver's seat.
"That was really a strange experience," Ekmark recalled with a chuckle. "I let go and then after 30 seconds I was like, 'and now what?'"
Eventually he felt comfortable enough to take his eyes off the road to read and answer e-mail on his smartphone. "After a while you adapt to it and you feel like you're on an aircraft or a bus or something."
Reading e-mail while sitting in the driver's seat may be safe enough, said Ekmark, but sleeping is probably not a good option.
If something goes wonky during a Road Train trip, the system triggers a very loud alarm along with a "quite strong vibration" in the driver's seat. The driver then has about 10 seconds to take control of the vehicle and leave the Road Train.
Road Trains could be a safe stepping stone toward the day when all cars are autonomously self-driven and not reliant on a lead vehicle, Ekmark said.
Americans are increasingly embracing train travel. Need proof? More passengers rode Amtrak this year than ever before in its 41-year history, the train company said. And there's no reason to believe the trend won't continue, say experts.
Better rail service and increased funding offers America its best chance in generations to get off the highways and get on the rails, according to analysts.
Regional inter-city rail systems in California, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia and elsewhere have been invigorated by 2009's federal stimulus legislation, said transportation expert Yonah Freemark, who runs TransportPolitic.com.
"Those investments are going to be built out and people are going to see better service on inter-city rail lines across the country," he said." And you'll see increasing ridership." That's good news for the nation's energy situation. Rail travel uses 20% less energy than traveling by car, according to the ASCE.
Still, U.S. train ridership ranks very low compared with other nations. The number of passengers on Amtrak and commuter rail total about 500 million a year, Freemark said. Compare that to the United Kingdom, a country five times smaller than the United States, which counted 1.35 billion rail riders last year. Other nations where railroads carry more than a billion passengers a year include Germany, India, China, France, Russia and South Korea, according to the International Union of Railways.