It seems obvious: flying short distances is less efficient than taking the train. We never expected an airline executive to admit as much, but JetBlue Chief Operating Officer Rob Maruster surprised us all at the recent "Airports: 21st Century Makeovers For The New York Metro Region" conference when he noted that high-speed rail often makes more sense than flying.
Maruster's exact words, courtesy of Transportation Nation:
"I may be shooting ourselves in the foot here, with five daily flights from JFK to Boston. But it just may not make that much sense for an airplane on a 150-mile route to fly over 300 air miles to get there. Maybe there’s a different mode of transportation that may be better to carry those customers from point A to point B."
So why the extra mileage for flying versus other modes of transportation? Planes travel 100 ground miles just to fly up to cruising altitude, for one, and also they have to travel over specific radar fixes—a requirement that usually means sidestepping the most direct routes.
Trains have no such requirements, but traveling the New York to Boston corridor via train is still more expensive (and much slower) than flying. And Maruster can rest assured that his off-the-cuff comments won't make a dent in ticket sales for a long time to come since Obama's elaborate high-speed rail plan is still just that—a plan.
But while rail emissions will always pale in comparison to plane emissions (at least until biofuels take off), the Department of Transportation is taking steps to increase fuel savings with the $865 million Next Generation Air Transportation System. NextGen aims to cut down on the time that planes wait to take off and land, chart more direct flight paths, and make ascents and descents more fuel-efficient. Maruster's comments still hold true for now, however. And when an airline COO tells us to start thinking about alternative modes of transportation, we should probably listen.