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Air Travel for Everyone?


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June 19, 2005

Air Travel for Everyone?

Michael Mandel

In 1967, Herman Kahn published a list of "One hundred technical innovations very likely in the last third of the twentieth century." Some of the forecasts, such as “Pervasive business use of computers” and “Direct broadcasts from satellites to home receivers,” were obviously right on.

The single worst prediction, according to this paper, was “Individual flying platforms.” (see also this blog post from 2004).

What brought this all to mind was an article in Sunday’s NYT entitled “Envisioning a Day When the Skies Will Teem with Air Taxis.” Matthew Wald wrote:

If the nation’s 429 commercial airports are too crowded, there is an alternative, aviation visionaries say: using a new generation of microjets, with two engines and just five or six seats, as air taxis or charters to connect the 5,400 airports scattered around the country that now have no scheduled service at all.

It may be a Buck Rogers fantasy, or it may be the early phase of new transportation network of point-to-point travel between little-known cities like this one.

Using new or improved technology, including satellites and on-board computers, to handle air traffic at places with no control towers and to provide better navigation support than airliners receive at big airports, the new mode of transportation could be safe and reliable, say advocates for the new generation of technology, known as the Small Aircraft Transportation System.

Well, if it works, it’s not quite individual flying platforms, but it’s close. Here’s an idea which has proven consistently not ready for prime time for the past 40 years. In fact, air travel in general has stagnated technologically over that stretch, with no real gains in speed and a decrease in convenience.

The real question in my mind: What are the odds of a successful technological breakthrough in air travel over the short to medium run? 2%? 5%? 10%? I’d bet 5%, but I’m prepared to be convinced otherwise.

07:55 PM

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Actually, there's a fair amount of new technology developing not only in new aircraft materials, but Web-based scheduling. There's an overview at BWOnline here: http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/mar2005/tc20050325_1861_tc119.htm

What that article doesn't cover, however, is a question I have: Will the local airports that are crucial to these new air taxi services really be able to accommodate them? The big obstacle, it seems to me, will be local community opposition to endless takeoffs and landings in their neighborhoods.

Posted by: Rob Hof at June 21, 2005 02:33 PM

One problem with everyone having their own plane is fuel. We can't live 200 miles from work because even if we could make that trip in 15 minutes, we still have to pay the fuel for a 400 mile a day comute. Now this little public plane idea would work great if you could teach the public to fly them. See, it still costs $95/hr plus taxes and insurance to have a pilot and copilot. Split that cost among 4 people for a two hour flight and you are looking at $75 just to pay the pilot. Why do pilots get paid so much? It cost a year away from work plus $91,000 plus a 4 year degree to become a pilot. See this web site. http://www.atpflightschool.com/index.html

Posted by: Joe at September 29, 2005 11:24 PM


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