Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Freeing up Runways, Again

In a blog post last month, I wrote about the probability that important European runways will be oversaturated in the future. In the March, 2009, edition of Aerospace America, Philip Butterworth-Hayes makes the same point in his article "Running out of runways".

continent’s air transport infrastructure,
Europe will find that its busiest airports
and airways will be saturated by 2030—
effectively capping the growth plans of
European airlines and the demand for
new aircraft.

In a recent study called Challenges
to Growth, the Brussels-based air traffic
management agency Eurocontrol predicts
that annual flights within Europe
will rise from 10 million today to 20.4
million by 2030. Even if all the current
airport capacity development strategies
proceed as planned, these figures still
mean there will be 2.3 million flights a
year (nearly 10% of the total) for which
there will be no room in Europe.

The point I made in my previous post and which I reiterate here is the need to utilize existing runways for the one purpose that is absolutely essential: the take off and landing of large, long distance flights. VTOL craft should be used for all shorter haul, regional flights that carry less than 100 passengers and travel less than 100 miles (1610 km), and for all smaller general aviation planes. VTOL craft will need only vertipads for landing, which can be at airports, but also can be in many other, more convenient, locations. The large Boeing and Airbus airplanes of current and future designs will have the runways to themselves, and this will relieve the pressure to build more runways, saving the substantial sums of money that are required.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Business of Innovation

The senior editor of General Aviation News, Thomas Norton, has a column in the February 6th, 2009 edition of that magazine called "What Business Are You In?". He makes these points:
What should we do when our comfortable niche either vanishes or becomes so small that it no longer supports our business? That's exactly what is happening at many companies, not all of them small, in the aviation community.
If we are to adapt to our circumstances, we need to be thinking more like the Wright brothers, James Watt, Alexander Graham Bell and and number of genuine innovators.
I could not agree more with Mr. Norton. I have felt for some time that general aviation, depending as it does on long take off and landing (LTOL) aircraft, is not offering product with maximum appeal. So long as airports are needed for both ends of a flight, takeoff points and destinations are limited. It's true that many GA pilots in the past and present fly for recreational reasons; but the cost of part time use of airplanes is high, and with there being increased concern about environmental impacts of carbon based fuels, it is not likely that recreational flying will provide a larger and larger market in the future. Airplane manufacturers could have products with increasing appeal if those airplanes were not dependent on airports, and thereby could provide much more convenient air transportation.

Those who have read my blog before know that I am a big fan of vertical take off and landing aircraft (VTOL). Although helicopters are VTOL, they are not ideal from my perspective. They have limited horizontal speed and require frequent maintenance. My company, Aeromobile Inc., has spent a number of years in developing a fixed wing airplane that takes off and lands vertically. We call it the Arc Wing VTOL Airplane. A sketch of it is below:

To me, innovation for general aviation means developing airplanes that fly as fast as the ones we have now, are as well made and safe as the ones we have know, are as pilotable as the ones we have now, but have VTOL capability. Such airplanes could offer true point to point transportation, and air taxi type services would blossom as the beginning and the end points of a flight were almost unlimited. Many other aviation services currently the venue of rotorcraft, like search and rescue, police patrolling, ship to shore flights, fire fighting can also become the venue of fixed wing aircraft. The GA manufacturers of the past and today have accomplished much in the efficiency, safety and capabilities of fixed wing craft. I think that innovation into taking off and landing vertically is where research is most needed, and where the greatest payoff will be.

I invite all GA aircraft manufacturers to contact Aeromobile Inc. to work with us on our innovative and business expanding technology.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Freeing Up Runways

Pierre Sparaco discusses the lack of runways at major European airports in his article "Runways Are Forever" in the Aviation Week & Space Technology journal of February 2, 2009. Due to cost and environmental concerns, airports in the UK, Germany and elsewhere have moved very slowly to add new runways, leaving the existing ones too crowded today and even more crowded in the future.

The larger commercial airplanes of the future - the Airbus A380 and the larger Boeing craft - will need long runways. They and their somewhat smaller Airbus and Boeing bretheren are long take off and landing aircraft, and such aircraft are the best way to tranport large numbers of air passengers long distances. But, much of the air traffic today consists of smaller airplanes, which still need runways, and therefore compete with the large jets for runway space. These craft, which usually travel less than 1000 miles (1600 km), could and should be replaced by VTOL airplanes. Our Arc Wing VTOL airplane can be scaled up to replace "regional" jets and air taxi services. VTOL craft would not need to use runways at all, allowing the existing ones to be dedicated for large jets.

And, the issue is not just with adding new runways. In some regions - New York, for example - new aiports have been proposed, to alleviate the crowded runways at existing airports. With VTOL regional airplanes and VTOL taxis, new airports will not be as necessary. And, the financial and environmental disagreements over adding a new runway are quite tame with the opposition generated over an entirely new aiport. It would make much more sense to make the best possible use of the runways we have, leaving them for just the large jets. Let's develop VTOL technology. It has so many advantages, and reducing runway overuse is among them.

SnowTime in London

On February 2nd, 2009, Jenny Booth in the Times of London reported "Heaviest snow in 20 years brings large parts of Britain to a halt".

The heaviest snowfall in 20 years has closed thousands of schools and caused transport chaos up the eastern side of Britain, with London and the surrounding areas the hardest hit.

Six million bus passengers were left in the lurch as all London's bus services were halted because of dangerous driving conditions, and every Tube line except the Victoria line was at least partially suspended.

Many mainline commuter rail services were also cancelled or seriously delayed, and flights at London's airports were decimated, with both of Heathrow's runways shut, Luton and London City closed, and Gatwick and Stansted flights subject to delays and short-notice cancellations.

Millions of commuters stayed at home rather than brave the conditions, as an estimated one in five people either worked from home or took the day off, costing industry hundreds of millions of pounds.

One of the world's capitals, the great city of London, was paralyzed by a rare snowstorm, which eventually amounted to about eight inches (20 cm). There was virtually no way to travel in the city, with all bus service suspended, and even the "underground" subway system unreliable. Getting into and out of the city was equally hard, with commuter railroad service canceled and driving quite dangerous due in part to the lack of road clearing equipment. In a different Times of London article, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, was quoted as saying “This is the kind of snow we haven’t seen in London in decades...We don’t have the snow-ploughs that we would otherwise need to be sure of getting the roads free.”

Because London rarely has snow, it has saved money most years compared to US cities like Chicago or Boston which must purchase and use large quantities of salt and sand each winter and purchase and use large quantities of snowplows and sand/salting trucks. And, less money is spent on the employees needed to make the roads passable. But, when the snowstorm does come, London is much less prepared to deal with it than cities with colder climates. One moderate size storm stops all transportation. Why? Because cars, trucks, buses and trains all have traction problems in snowy and icy conditions. No city should have to endure frozen mobility in the way London recently did. The recent London weather shows that even cities in usually temperate climates have some risk each winter of greatly reduced or even halted transportation.

There is only one way to have weather immune transportation, and that is to base it not on wheels and roads, but on air cushion vehicles (ACVs) in elevated, lightweight guideways. Those who have followed this blog before know that I'm talking about the Aeroduct System. It would not shut down in a snowstorm of any size, let alone one that amounted to less than one foot (30 cm). London and any other city would save money by having no need for salt, sand, trucks and plows, and no citizen would be prevented from travelling intra and inter city. ACVs glide over snow and ice, even pushing excess snow out of the way with the air propulsion. Not only would transporation be available, it would not be dangerous. As the article by Ms. Booth says, the bus service in the city was cancelled due to "dangerous driving conditions". And, Ms. Booth talks elsewhere in her article about the "treacherous conditions" on the roads leading to and from London.

London might not have another major snow event for some time to come. But, its recent plight shows that it doesn't take much for wheel based transportation to cease working well, to become a danger, and to require considerable expense to set right. And, the forced closing of businesses means additional money lost. I invite all those who want to bring safe, economic and always available transporation to their communites to contact us about the Aeroduct System.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Better Shuttle - Part II

In my previous blog entry, I referred to a story in the USA Today "Forget the Cab, Take a Shuttle Flight". This story explains how a new air shuttle service is being offered between a suburban airport and Atlanta's Hartsfield airport, 43 miles away, so that residents of Atlanta's suburbs can get to this major airport without having to deal with the horrendous traffic on the way. I proposed in that blog entry the use of VTOL airplanes to make the shuttle service even better. In this entry, I want to talk about how to solve the real problem: unrelenting and unpredictable road congestion.

There are numerous solutions offered to greatly reduce road congestion: better monitoring of traffic, building more roads and widening existing ones, congestion pricing, more mass transit, reserved lanes for vehicles with multiple occupants, and increasing automation of automobiles and trucks. These all have some merit, but I don't think any of them will come close to remedying the problem. Having (almost) all traffic on one level really limits available space for cars and trucks, unless we want to pave over every square foot of land everywhere. Elevation is prohibitively expensive with cement and asphalt roads, and even just adding more lanes to existing surface roads is expensive, causes all sorts of traffic delays in the process, and seems to invite more traffic, so that the enlarged road is congested not long after the construction is done.

The article about the new air shuttle service to Hartsfield airport makes another interesting point.
Traffic-congestion experts cite the problem of unpredictability: When people don't know which day they'll experience an hour-long delay, they have to build in that extra hour — wasted time when traffic flows smoothly.
Using the photo below from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as an illustration, a person going to the airport could be traveling in the congested direction (right hand side), or in the uncongested (upper left) direction. He or she would have no control over the traffic going to the airport, and would have to allow the maximum time just in case traffic is bad. This means leaving earlier than necessary, else risking a congestion delay and a missed flight.

And, adding more lanes or elevating lanes to alleviate the traffic situation, can wind up creating the utopian vision below (photo also from the FHWA), which happens to show road realities in the Atlanta area.

No one should have to contend with real or anticipated traffic jams, and no community should have to add more and more ribbons of cement. The best way to get someone from their home to the Hartsfield airport is to implement the Aeroduct System that Aeromobile Inc. has pioneered. Air cushion vehicles in lightweight transparent or translucent guideways offer many advantages over wheeled vehicles on roads, not the least is the dramatic improvement in capacity. The guideways in the Aeroduct System are less expensive than roads; the air cushion vehicles are less expensive than cars or trucks. The lightweight guideways can be stacked vertically and horizontally, allowing almost infinite capacity. With this System, no one would ever be late to the airport due to terrible traffic, and no one would have to leave their job or home early just because traffic might be bad.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Better Shuttle - Part I

In the USA Today of January 15th, an article by Larry Copeland called "Forget the Cab, Take a Shuttle Flight", explains how a new air shuttle service is being offered between Gwinnett County airport and Atlanta's Hartsfield airport, 43 miles away. All this so that residents of Atlanta's suburbs do not have to risk missing a flight at Hartsfield due to the often unpredictable traffic slowdowns encountered when driving a car to the airport. I hope the service is successful. But, I'd like to talk about how two of the technologies I've worked on might make the service even better.

In Part I of this blog entry, I'll relate how the Arc Wing VTOL airplane would be the best possible shuttle to get from anywhere to Hartsfield or any other large airport. In Part II, I'll discuss how we can eliminate the traffic congestion that is the problem in the first place.

A VTOL airplane is the best possible way to get people by air from one place to another. The Arc Wing VTOL airplane which I've been working on for many years would let a shuttle service takeoff just about anywhere in the Atlanta area, without any airport being necessary, and land at Hartsfield on a vertipad (a variation of a helipad), allowing the runways to be dedicated to large aircraft, like airliners. This would be far more flexible than requiring a LTOL (long takeoff and landing airplane) at the starting point, which must be a runway, then a short flight to another airport, where one of the runways must accommodate the smaller airplane along with commercial jets.

The shuttle service would have infinitely more starting points, and make far less demand on the runways at Hartsfield, the destination point. A company using the Arc Wing VTOL airplane for its shuttle fleet could have many starting points at various distances from Hartsfield, and truly accommodate all those who want to get to the large airport without having to deal with stupefying automobile traffic.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter is here, and for cars and trucks it is no "Wonderland" - Part III

In my last two blog posts, I've talked about the crippling effect winter can have on auto and truck transportation. As you know from those entries, I propose the Aeroduct System of air cushion vehicles in elevated lightweight guideways as the ideal transportation system, during the winter and the rest of the year.

Now I will address attempts to improve the performance of wheel based vehicles in bad weather. Many intelligent efforts are being made in that direction. Overall, my response is that those efforts will be highly expensive, highly complicated but with low results. Here are some specifics.

Some efforts are being directed at improved sensing devices for the roads. An article in the October/November issue of Traffic Technology International by Melanie Scott talks about the latest devices that can count cars and also detect pavement temperature and moisture. This information is passed on to traffic control officials, and can aid them in determining road conditions. Presumably, this same information could be passed on to drivers, also letting them know road conditions ahead. This is all part of the hoped for intelligent driving of the future.

Bad weather magnifies driver error, and even more informed drivers could still make mistakes, in part due to the tendency to travel as fast as one wants regardless of weather conditions, instead of as fast as is reasonable under those conditions. The recognition of the relationship between driver error and accidents has prompted the many ongoing efforts to design cars and road systems that take the driver out of the picture, by completely automating cars and trucks. These efforts are summarized by Ryan D. Lamm in his article "Driven to It", published in the November/December, 2008 edition of Thinking Highways North America.

I commented on Mr. Lamm's article in an earlier blogpost. I'll reiterate here that no automation of wheel based vehicles and no sensing of road conditions will have as important an impact on creating ideal transportation as will the replacement of wheeled vehicles and roads with the Aeroduct System. Reducing accidents with better knowledge of road conditions and steps towards automating driver functions are steps in the right direction. But, complete automation of automobiles is a very big challenge, and I don't think it will ever happen, even with thousands of dollars of sensing and communication devices added to cars and trucks. A car or truck travels in a flat plane where other vehicles and pedestrians and animals can be in any direction, under many different weather situations. Computer sensing and reaction to all that will be extremely complicated. So, in the future. drivers will still influence the control of cars, and driver error will still be a factor, even if reduced some by technology.

Even more challenging to those who want to continue our current wheel based transportation system is that no amount of sensing and no steps towards automated cars will improve icy and snowy roads. Traffic accidents might decline, which would be a good thing, but road conditions will still be bad, and travel will still slow down greatly. The bane of winter weather for everyone is the inconvenience of increased travel time. And, all that salt and sand will still need to be dumped onto roads to make them passable at all. Only a transportation system immune to bad weather is really ideal. Only a transportation system that can be automated far less expensively than cars/trucks/roads and does not need enormous amounts of salt and sand each winter is ideal. That is why I say the Aeroduct System is the transportation modality of the future.

To those parts of the country where snowstorms and ice storms cause no end of problems each winter, I invite you to contact Aeromobile Inc. to talk to us. The population shift away from colder areas to warmer has many causes, but one of them has to be the desire to get away from the dangerous and slow travel conditions faced for three or four months each year.