Monday, 21 February 2005

Book review: Free Flight

Well, I’m massively behind on the 50 Book Challenge, but I did finish reading the copy of James Fallows’ Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Air Travel that I threw in for $6 with an order for “work” books. As Robert mentioned last month, it’s a pretty interesting look at some of the new innovations in small planes (or “general aviation”). The book slightly suffers from being dated—in particular, I think there’s a good chapter that needs to be added on the last two years of the Eclipse 500 saga.

It’s also not entirely clear how Fallows sees “air taxis” fitting in the larger aviation system; he talks a lot about the threat they pose to what most transportation folks call “legacy carriers” (e.g. American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways) but not so much about how the air taxis would affect the regional jet networks associated with the legacy carriers or the “no-frills” carriers like Southwest and airTran. I suspect that, by further drying up the pool of high-revenue customers that the legacy carriers depend on to stay in business, the “hub and spoke” system will fall apart and two classes of travel will emerge in the aviation hinterlands of flyover country: on-demand “air taxi” travel for the rich (or those who can convince their company that an extra $200 in airfare is worth saving a night in the hotel) and increased once-a-day point-to-point travel to popular destinations. Of course, like any other predictions, these may be completely wrong.

Nonetheless, it’s a very interesting book and I recommend it highly for anyone with an interest in general aviation.