Friday, September 26, 2008

Air Traffic Overload

Think there are a lot of planes whizzing over your house these days? Wondering where they are all going? Fretful that you don't understand how they don't all crash into each other?

This video shows a time-lapse view, superimposed on a map of the globe, of all flights taking place around the world over a 24 hour period. Amazing stuff. (Better quality version here.)

The US is literally blanketed with light during daylight hours, as too is Europe, and the transatlantic corridor is just a solid band of yellow.

The tonnage of CO2 being generated; the number of people aloft at any given moment; the sheer economics involved in this collective industry, all must be staggering.

I caught a few minutes of a BBC America program on the inexorable rise of air travel. A reporter was in line to catch a low-cost flight in Bangalore for a journey of less than an hour. He asked the man in front of him what the base price was of his ticket, excluding any taxes or baggage check costs. "6 rupees" was the answer for a seat on this Indian version of Ryan Air.

Sure, with high load factors then air travel can be a quite fuel efficient way of moving people around, but there's a downside with all this and that's the tendency for new, low cost routes to generate additional travel that would otherwise not have happened.

No answers from me, and no particular axe to grind other than to wonder about the accelerative effect this must have on global warning given that it dumps all that CO2 right into the upper atmosphere where it has the maximum negative effect. Makes you think though. Just as cell phones are fast overtaking land-lines as the principal means of personal communication in the developing world, will air travel render train or cars redundant for non-local personal travel in India, China, Russia, South America and elsewhere?

In India, the demand for easier travel outside of the big cities is far outweighing the ability of government to build the necessary infrastructure to support it. Even in Bangalore they have taken nigh on 20 years to build a new airport. However, it's worth noting that even though this new facility is now open, they have yet to build a road out there to meet it .....

The era of mass aviation or even personal aviation - flying cars and all - may have only just begun.

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