Air Travel for Everyone?

In 1967, Herman Kahn published a list of

In 1967, Herman Kahn published a list of "One hundred technical innovations very likely in the last third of the twentieth century." Some of the forecasts, such as “Pervasive business use of computers” and “Direct broadcasts from satellites to home receivers,” were obviously right on.

The single worst prediction, according to this paper, was “Individual flying platforms.” (see also this blog post from 2004).

What brought this all to mind was an article in Sunday’s NYT entitled “Envisioning a Day When the Skies Will Teem with Air Taxis.” Matthew Wald wrote:

If the nation’s 429 commercial airports are too crowded, there is an alternative, aviation visionaries say: using a new generation of microjets, with two engines and just five or six seats, as air taxis or charters to connect the 5,400 airports scattered around the country that now have no scheduled service at all.
It may be a Buck Rogers fantasy, or it may be the early phase of new transportation network of point-to-point travel between little-known cities like this one.
Using new or improved technology, including satellites and on-board computers, to handle air traffic at places with no control towers and to provide better navigation support than airliners receive at big airports, the new mode of transportation could be safe and reliable, say advocates for the new generation of technology, known as the Small Aircraft Transportation System.

Well, if it works, it’s not quite individual flying platforms, but it’s close. Here’s an idea which has proven consistently not ready for prime time for the past 40 years. In fact, air travel in general has stagnated technologically over that stretch, with no real gains in speed and a decrease in convenience.

The real question in my mind: What are the odds of a successful technological breakthrough in air travel over the short to medium run? 2%? 5%? 10%? I’d bet 5%, but I’m prepared to be convinced otherwise.

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