The Advanced Electrodynamic Suspension & Rapid Acceleration or AESRA is an advanced variation on electrodynamic suspension with leanings towards coil gun technology and is capable of extremely high acceleration and velocities. The technology is universally used across The Extent so that in most cities vehicles no longer need to have a sophisticated motor system, simply a generator capable of stabilising the vehicle against any errant variations in the ground field and a control panel linked to city-control to indicate where the user wants the vehicle to go. AESRA is also used to launch aircraft, rockets and other forms of transport including supra-orbital cargo pods aimed towards other systems. Where ground-based fields are unavailable, AESRA is usually used to move wheels or propellers of fanjets on the vehicle in order to propel it in the direction desired.
City vehicles are typically lifted by under surface AESRA coils, floating a few centimetres above the surface, guided by city AESRA flows using their onboard generator(s) to stabilise the vehicle as well as switch from lane to lane in order to reach the required destination. Vehicle users on AESRA roads interact with the computers in only the most basic fashion verbally directing destination, route preferences and maximum speed which the computers then use to decide the most appropriate route. Taxis are automated and cheap with exclusive transport unavailable to those except for the most high-profile individuals. In some societies, if the route your taxi is following can, with minimal impact, be adapted to pick up others the vehicle will automatically do so. Other vehicles are hybrid designs, able to switch from city-mode to travel on well-maintained ordinary roads with no AESRA so can pick up and drop passengers in the suburbs switching between wheeled and AESRA modes as required.
The vast majority of aircraft, excepting police pursuit and sports vehicles used on specialist tracks, are AESRA launched but in flight-mode switch to glide, subsonic prop/fan or supersonic fanjet depending on their purpose. The most common type is a combination glider & prop/fan where multiple prop-fans operate to extend the flight but, with fuel conservation in mind, the aircraft coasts like a high-speed glider where possible. Faster transport involves sub-orbital scramjets but these are still launched from an AESRA track and usually landed in a similar fashion.
All planets that have an atmosphere will use aircraft and, as such, airports even if they are little more than a blasted area of rock on a frontier planet and double as a spaceport. Most airfields will have at least one AESRA launcher ramp as well as a glide-way for landing vehicles and every civilised planet will have at least one major airport.
AESRA launchers are capable of very high launch speeds though acceleration needs to be heavily moderated where humans are involved. A successful launch means that even if the vehicle experiences trouble (post-launch, perhaps a scramjet failure) they would typically have several minutes before people in the craft or on the ground are in danger. The danger is reduced to a minimum by use of automated rescue gliders which, once problems are realised, launch at over Mach 10 (rescue mode) towards the crippled vehicle, lock on to it, deploy large glide surfaces and glide it down to a relatively safe landing area for recovery by regular rescue services.
On most worlds airliners are launched by AESRA with the launch vehicle separating about a minute after leaving the ground and returning to its host airport under automated guidance. The airliner will continue up under launcher-supplied impetus, coast to cruising height and continue on to its destination using its onboard fanjets as required to maintain height and velocity. The typical cruise height for an airliner is about fifteen thousand metres at a speed of about three thousand km/h. Short range air transport (intercity connections and shorter inter-state travel) is usually by "hopper", VTOL craft of variable size also referred to as "HeliJets" even though they have no rotas, which are usually AESRA prop-fan based vehicles. Hoppers are used extensively by those on mid-range commutes and those travelling for connections to further destinations via air and spaceports.
Planetary cargo is handled differently using automated, gliding cargo carriers with retractable glide surfaces launched by AESRA, catapulted into low orbital trajectories and finally gliding back down to their destination. The carriers have small attitude jets that can correct for errors that occur along their path. Space bound cargos are handled similarly to planetary inasmuch as the cargo containers are AESRA launched, however, they are typically launched off longer tracks at higher altitudes and at much higher accelerations, ten or more gravities (assuming no livestock). The cargo containers are launched directly towards their carriers, huge ships that capture the containers and dock them, safely within their open-space docking places then carry them towards their planned destination. Cargo containers are cheap units with retractable glide surfaces, similar to their atmospheric counterparts, and will travel with the cargo carrier to their destination. The carrier is usually little more than a framework with an engine at the rear, crew quarters and control at the front. The cargo units dock into the framework and cargo carriers are amongst the longest ships in The Extent, the longest (at time of writing) is the Sultan of Sumeria at some fifteen hundred metres. On reaching their destination, the cargo shuttles will detach, re-enter the atmosphere and glide down to their destination fully under their own control. Being automated they will drop much faster from orbit and under higher deceleration firing their braking rockets only in the last few minutes of flight to land finally near specialist cargo terminals. Cargo shuttles typically carry only "robust" cargos which can include "frozen" livestock.
Passenger shuttles are launched at a more sedate acceleration of two gravities and are almost always directed to local space terminals where liners dock. Some worlds don't have space terminals so the shuttles will dock directly with the liners but this is a much slower process. Passengers usually transfer to the space liner via the space station and the shuttle will return, often with disembarking passengers, to the space port from which it launched. Re-entry into the atmosphere is understood to be the most dangerous part of a passenger shuttle's journey even though there haven't been any passenger shuttle disasters for over fifty years. Such shuttles typically dock with a lander vehicle at around thirty thousand metres which then takes them all the way down to the spaceport. Passenger shuttles typically ferry humans, livestock and fragile goods.
On some mining planets, the only way on and off the planet is by cargo scow which are little more than huge mineral containers, some as large as a hundred metres long and fifty wide, with signalling beacons. The scows are launched by catapult at medium-high speed towards their target systems where travelling relatively slowly, they are snagged for final transport to factories on their destination planet. Workers going to and from such planets will often have to travel by automated cargo pod encased in shock absorbing gel carrying adequate food/air with them.
Other examples of AESRA's use are the pod transport systems like PodNet, an extensive pod-train network built in and around Port McKinley.
Perhaps the most significant use of AESRA technology is within the military where it is used to launch fighters, other small ships and missiles as well as the firing of kinetic weapons and other projectiles.