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Innovation: Keep ‘Em Flying

There’s no future in flight if planes have no place to park. Yet that’s exactly the future we face, with 14 U.S. airports and eight metropolitan areas needing new capacity to accommodate anticipated growth in air traffic through 2025. In fact, 15 metro areas will not be able to manage demand by 2025 unless they act now. Places like New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles need to identify better ways to use existing, smaller, or underused airports — and they need to do it fast.

There’s no future in flight if planes have no place to park.

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Yet that’s exactly the future we face, with 14 U.S. airports and eight metropolitan areas needing new capacity to accommodate anticipated growth in air traffic through 2025. In fact, 15 metro areas will not be able to manage demand by 2025 unless they act now. Places like New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles need to identify better ways to use existing, smaller, or underused airports — and they need to do it fast.

This quote-unquote “frank look at where the capacity hot spots are going to be” comes straight from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and the FAA’s just-released 2007-2025 study “Future Airport Capacity Task.”

More supporting information about the study is available online from the FAA.

Air traffic is booming, and the technology to manage it is straining to keep up. Already 18 of America’s biggest airports are back to pre-9/11 levels, and growth is quickening.

But solving the air traffic control challenges is not the biggest part of the problem.

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The key challenge is airport expansion.

Yet expansion is a perennial whipping boy. The folks who live around airports can be counted on to oppose it, while municipalities frequently fail to foot the necessary funding, even when they recognize the importance of an airport to the local economy.

I haven’t see much news coverage of the FAA report, except in trade publications like Aviation Week‘s Aviation Daily. That’s not too surprising, because most news organizations seem to prefer to focus on sensational stuff, like the latest airliner stuck out on the taxiway for 10 hours.

I guess any long-range analysis of whether we’ll even be able to get a plane onto the taxiway by the year 2025 is considered a snooze.

The FAA report paints a sobering picture of our current airport congestion predicament, and the huge amount of work we need to do to keep ’em flying.

What do you think about airport expansion? Do we need more runways, longer runaways, more airports, larger airports?

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Are there other options?

I’d say yes. The air taxi isn’t a solution, but it certainly can help take the load off the commercial airlines by moving passengers to regional airports.

Small light jets, as Forbes magazine’s Erika Brown relates in April 2007’s “Very Light, Has a Loo,” have long been predicted to spark a new air taxi industry into being. That’s now happening, just at a slower pace than some experts had forecast.

A year earlier, Business 2.0’s Chris Taylor recalled (“Air Taxis Line Up for Takeoff”) that the magazine had predicted just two years before that the small jet/air taxi business model of ferrying road warriors from point to point instead of from hub to hub was about to lift off.

As pilot/publisher Rich Karlgaard of Forbes indicated in his “Private Jet Boom” piece from last September, “the hope of air taxis is to bring the price of jet charters down to the executive masses,” i.e., the folks who are paying first-class, business-class, or full-price economy fares on commercial airlines.

Karlgaard notes that a full one-third of those fliers have already switched to air taxis, leaving two-thirds who would probably jump at the chance if it were offered at a nearby regional airport.

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For his part, Karlgaard cautions that the air taxi model is new and may not make it.

How new? Well, Erika Brown’s story profiles the very first all-composite business jet — and one with an on-board bathroom, no less! This is the air taxi that discovered carbon fiber before Boeing popularized the idea in its new Dreamliner.

Boeing by the way, just rolled out of its hangar the first of the hugely hyped 787s (“Boeing Rolls Out Dreamliner for the World”).

I think the 787 will be a great success, just as I feel air taxis will find their niche.

Will either of them materially alter the fact that we seem to be running out of space at our airports? Not as far as this futurist can see.

What do you think the future holds?

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Airline Futurist • Miami • www.amadeus.com

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