How Efficient Aviation Changes Things
I’m probably not the only EV driver who finds that I drive more with an EV than I did when I only had gas-powered cars. With not only the cost of fuel, but maintenance and other expenses being a lot lower, it’s hard to not go out and find things to do sometimes. Heck, the fun of taking EV trips and driving EVs around was so great that Tesla had to stop offering free supercharging, as too many people were taking very full advantage of it.
So, the question is, what happens when you make aviation a lot cheaper than it is today? Fortunately, this is something that has been explored before, when I did an article about Otto Aviation’s Celera 500L.
The 500L’s commercial and business jet competitors typically feature long, cylindrical fuselages. In contrast, the 500L has a teardrop-shaped form. It sports a fairly fat and blunt nose as well as pointy tail, giving the fuselage an nearly perfect aerodynamic shape. Furthermore, with sharp wings and tail, landing gear that folds away cleanly inside the plane’s shape, and even engine tucked neatly away, the plane cuts through the sky more easily than other planes of its kind. So, in some ways, it’s like the Aptera of the skies.
It’s not clear whether the propeller is assisting in reducing drag, but it appears to be doing so. The propulsive force of the wind may be amplified by sucking on the boundary layer like an experimental NASA design I’ve previously discussed, helping to reduce drag even further.
I won’t bore you with all of the other details here, but the kerosene-powered plane uses a much more efficient engine than jet planes, has innovative features like a heat exchanger with the exhaust to further improve efficiency.
The end result was a plane that gets 25 MPG. That’s not a great figure in the automotive world, but it’s only about 1/8 the cost of a comparable jet plane. Like Alice, this “Prius of the Air” doesn’t carry much, but it would have no problem carrying a small business team, a family, or similar small groups who are going to the same destination.
The Number That Really Changes Things
When you look at the lower costs of things like Alice and the Celera 500L, you end up with the cost per passenger actually being lower than those of airliners. With people free to choose a smaller plane instead of buying their travel buddies, coworkers, or kids tickets on a 737, many exciting opportunities open up.
The first and most significant advantage is that flying with one’s family on a private flight for the price of commercial would be considerably more convenient and less invasive. Instead of being charged to be treated like livestock or a possible terrorist, you might be given similar treatment to that of a limousine passenger, or at the absolute least, it may be an Uber-type experience loading up.
Or, put more plainly, you’d drive to the nearest small airport, park your vehicle, and get on the plane. Unless the company operating the plane thinks it necessary, there would be no security checks (just like private jets now). Even if you did book a flight with a pilot who wanted to search you, there’d be no long wait in line for the privilege of getting groped and nudie-scanned. There’d be no waiting for connecting flights, no long wait because you were supposed to arrive early, and no baggage claim upon arrival.
Plus, there’d be no “Oh, sorry, we’re overbooked. Please get off or we’ll beat the crap out of you,” incidents like United had in 2017.
Another thing this would open up is more rural and small-town flights. For instance, if you want to take a commercial flight from my hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico, you have to drive an hour to the airport. However, there’s a small airport that is only 10-20 minutes away. If flights using these cheaper planes became more common and accessible, it would be better for the environment because fewer air miles would be used while still getting people where they need/want to go. Even if traveling alone, you’d start seeing flights you could book taking oddball routes that the big, polluting airliners don’t serve.
Or, because Alice is electric and has limited range, it might just be used for the “last mile.” Take a commercial jet airliner or something like the Otto Celera series for long flights, but be able to take the last 100-200 miles to a small airport in Alice, and for cheaper than a rental car.
If you’re looking for a more comfortable flying experience but don’t want to spend the money on first-class, consider an upgrade to business class — for free. That’s what these little planes would probably offer. With Alice’s 2,500-pound limit for passengers and luggage, you’re only talking about probably six people, or maybe eight if they don’t let fat people get a seat for the same price as skinny people (I’m not sure if that’s legal, though). This means they aren’t trying to pack people in like sardines.
Plus, you’d get this excellent experience while your flight makes for lower emissions than you’d get flying coach, so you don’t have to feel guilty for indulging in air travel.
Airlines Had Better Get A Clue
If you’re definitely going to take a cheaper efficient plane that emits less, doesn’t require you to submit to an invasive search, is more comfortable in the air, and saves you lots of time, you’re far from alone. Who wouldn’t book a flight on an Alice or Celera with all of those benefits? You’d have to be some sort of masochist to want to fly the unfriendly skies like we do now.
But, I wouldn’t be surprised if the airline executives fly in on their private jets to D.C. to ask for bailouts when these technologies start eating their shorts. After all, they’re too big to fail, and letting them get what they probably deserve in that scenario would cost too many jobs, right?
But, it’s not too late for the Americans, Southwests, and Uniteds of the world to embrace this technology early and start providing top-notch service to their customers that they don’t now. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
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