Fixing America’s Aviation Business

Cover of "Securing the Future of U.S. Air...

Cover via Amazon

While it may look healthy from the outside, the aviation industry in the US is in trouble. Overcapacity and price wars are squeezing domestic air service; mediocre cabin service and foreign competition are sucking profits out of international routes; fuel prices threaten to rise; demands for reduced emissions are growing shrill; and a flying public wants the airlines to deliver a better travel experience than they are currently offering. Given the vital role of aviation in the nation’s economic infrastructure, how to solve those problems?

No simple answer has come to light, but in Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril, the National Research Council (NRC) identifies the most urgent issues and lays the groundwork for someone to come up with a vision for the future.

This is a different approach than what James Fallows took in Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Travel, a book that rejected the “fatter planes, bigger airports” default America has been pursuing for the past two generations. Where Fallows posited a future where safer small planes offering point-to-point air taxi services begin to displace the bus-like experience of airline travel, the NRC says that it is time to create a long-term systemic vision for the future of the industry that will guide it forward, rather than deal with the individual challenges of system capacity, environment, safety, or, in Fallows’ case, passenger experience as isolated issues.

While the NRC frames the issues that require that vision, the authors succumb to the engineering-based urge to fix the immediate problems that they say plague the industry rather than offer the vision itself. There is superb, thoughtful stuff here, but seven years after the book’s publication we are still waiting for that vision.

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