An item about air travel in the recent “Green Issue” of The New York Times Magazine caught my eye. Not because of the damage jets due to the environment (duh), but because the story mentioned a forecast I’ve seen elsewhere that I still don’t believe - namely, air traffic will increase 60% by 2025.
At face value it seems logical to forecast a consumer-driven industry’s growth by taking the annual increase in population and levering it up by some fudge factor. But there are a few constraints the statisticians overlooked. In 2025 there won‘t be:
- 60% more airports
- 60% more runways
- 60% more airplanes, or the equivalent seat capacity
- 60% more pilots
- 60% more airline employees or managers
- 60% more air traffic controllers
- 60% more FAA computer system capacity
- 60% more FAA inspectors
- 60% more space near the airport for parking or rental cars
Five airlines have gone out of business already this year. Neither Boeing nor Airbus can get their new gigunda planes out of production. The FAA can’t guarantee flight-worthy aircraft. The Big Six would rather mothball planes and curtail routes. When oil gets to $150 a barrel, who will fund the industry?
Oh, and one other thing. It’s difficult to find two pilots who will stay awake for a 40-minute flight at 9 AM in beautiful Hawaii. Listen to this air traffic controller keep her composure while trying to hail these now-fired nudnicks:
She should get some sort of medal.
The airline industry is within five to ten years of its breaking point. At present, its rallying cry is “Maximum discomfort that you will pay for because we are not your worst option. We are close to worst. But not the worst. And anyway we blame it all on the government.”
If you are in, or related to, the air travel industry, develop a list of early warning signs (you can already note and check off “pilots sleeping on short hops”), so you can adapt before it’s too late.
And if you are in, or related to, the bus and rental car industries, start brainstorming ideas that are better than “no worse than the airlines.” Think ZipCar-plus. Think “why does bus seating have to mimic that of airplanes?” Think “how does John Madden do it?!?”
I would have mentioned the railroad industry as another alternative, but this country squandered its passenger-train assets years ago.