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.