Today I am talking about making aviation available to everyone as a daily means of transportation. Transportation changes society.
So says Richard Jones, a technical fellow at Boeing Phantom Works, the advanced R&D; unit of Boeing. Jones' vision for a new mobility was welcomed by the audience at the 2008 Electric Aircraft Symposium in San Francisco. The event is sponsored by the CAFE Foundation, a non-profit organization advocating personal air travel. Jones believes that airplanes can be designed which are easier to fly than a car is to drive. But what does it mean for commuting, city planning, and the climate crisis?Will Commuter Airplanes Damage the Environment?
The aircraft industry recognizes that emissions from commuting in general, and aircraft in particular, cannot continue along current trendlines. But since the entire fossil-fuel and automobile infrastructure needs a rethink, why not make it airborne? That is why the talk is buzzing around super-efficient, hybrid and electric airplanes. CAFE is currently looking for a sponsor for a Green Prize to augment awards in a small plane competition which CAFE co-hosts with the US NASA. The first prize will land $50,000 in the pocket of the inventor of the first airplane which can fly at least 100 miles per hour for 100 miles per gallon or better.
Is an Eco-friendly Airplane Feasible?
The vision of an eco-efficient Jetson-car is becoming plausibe. The Slovenian company Pipistrel will release a two-seater electric glider-plane before the end of 2008, overcoming technical limitations (power versus weight) which have stumped aircraft designers for decades. Orders have already been accepted for the Taurus, which at $132,000 may seem expensive but nonetheless competes with top-end automobiles and is only 20K more than a Tesla. Like all new developments, the first models off the assembly line come at a price.
What Will an Air Commuting Future Look Like?
Eco-city planners focus a lot on putting the work and the needs of life near the people, little "pods" of self-sufficiency, if you will. Is a future full of Airplane-cars incompatible with a green vision? Well, maybe not. Even in the most wired, non-commuting models, it is impossible to imagine the end of all mobility while retaining the advantages of specialization which have the potential to maintain a satisfying human society. So if you posit that at least some people will still be travelling in the green future, why not imagine scenarios where people can live in an eco-village and electro-glide out as needed in a mode of transport which requires little paving of the earth, and disperses nothing harmful into the atmosphere during the commute. With the (also significant) assumption of green electrical capacities developing, a vision of greener commuting by air emerges out of sci-fi and may be coming to a dealer near you sooner than you think.