Is there a future for air travel?

Right now, it’s looking pretty bleak. Increases in fuel costs combined with the hollowing out of the middle class means that airlines will focus increasingly on the top 10-15%. You’ll see service to fewer places, as detailed in this Wall St. J. report, higher prices, and more space devoted to business and first class. Think of what air travel was like back in the 1950s, for example, but without a DC-3 stopping once a day in your home town. Oxford, MS, where I went to high school and college, used to have scheduled service via Southern Airways and the aforementioned DC-3 (later Martin 404s). Today, it’s the “Airport at Ole Miss,” where it primarily serves rich alums flying in for football games. Nearby Memphis is down to 91 scheduled flights a day from over 300 just a few years ago.

On the other hand, the CEO of Bombardier seems optimistic in this condensed interview, also in the Journal. A couple of points that I found interesting:

  • Their new C-series, scheduled to enter service next year, will serve the 100-149 seat market with an aircraft that promises to be “20% more fuel efficient than the best aircraft out there.” Could this make service to St. Augustine profitable again?
  • High speed rail, about half of Bombardier’s business, is booming except in one major market. For example, they’re introducing a new train, the “Zephiro 380, a train that goes [235 miles] an hour, designed in conjunction with our German and Chinese employees.” For trips of less than 1,000 miles, this train could well beat airlines for travel between city centers. Eventually, we may overcome the ideological blinders keeping high-speed rail from becoming a presence in such dense markets as along the east coast, as well as between Chicago and New York (say hi to Eva Marie Saint for me), Chicago and Washington, San Francisco and LA, and the Dallas – Houston – San Antonio triangle.

I don’t know what all this means, but it seems obvious that if we’re going to stay a great nation, much less a great power, we have to have efficient and ubiquitous means of moving around the country.

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