Saturday, April 26, 2008

Not Quite Free Flight

The May edition of The Atlantic is out and my cyber-friend James Fallows has an interesting article in it.

Taxis in the Sky

As I’ve mentioned before, Mr. Fallows uses the term “Free Flight” on occasion. As a matter of fact, he wrote a book with the term in its title -- Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Travel. (Unfortunately, I haven’t read it yet.) The term “Free Flight” means different things to different people. As far as Mr. Fallows’ current article goes, I don’t have any argument with his use of the term.

The article explains the complex interaction between emerging technologies that hold the promise of this new form of transportation. I’m not convinced that the market for Very Light Jets (VLJs) is as extensive as its proponents would like it to be but Mr. Fallows presents a convincing case for their use as air taxis. It’s an interesting article and well worth your time.

I would like comment on the apparent absence of one element though -- Air Traffic Control. The article makes clear that the company highlighted -- DayJet -- has examined the business in incredible detail. As an example:

”The answer involves an odd assemblage of talents and disciplines that includes American computer scientists who call their specialty “ant farming”; Russian mathematical prodigies who made their way from Minsk and Moscow to Florida, via Jerusalem; Internet-business pioneers; and, yes, pilots and maintenance experts and dispatchers, including many refugees or retirees from the troubled airlines. Plus Bruce Holmes himself, who joined the company a year ago, after NASA radically cut back its airplane-related activities to shift its resources to space exploration. “

To me -- an ex-air traffic controller -- the absence is glaring. It seems to me that a company that will interact with air traffic control on a daily basis would have covered this base. Perhaps they have. But it’s been my experience that other businesses haven’t. From companies relocating their flight departments to governments choosing a location for a new airport -- it seems as if little (if any) thought has been given to air traffic control considerations.

Don Brown
April 25, 2008

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