Wednesday, July 29, 2009

After an Hour, A Plane is a Plane

I couldn’t wait to fly on my first 777, even scheduling a connection just for the privilege of riding on this machine across the Atlantic to Paris instead of a nonstop from California on the smaller but capable 767. Been there, flown that.

The only new thing about the flight was the angriest buzz-saw of an engine ever heard outside my window, chewing air with a vengeance and abandon. An hour after take-off, though, the air goblin settled in to a tiger’s purr for the crossing, like any other plane I’d ever flown.

That's me, standing 6'3" in the mouth of the buzz-saw.

A lot of hype goes in to the age, model and condition of an airplane when it comes to fuel conservation, eco-friendliness, customer appeal and so on. Bunk.

Save the environment? Mainly in simply trying to save fuel, y'all. These issues focus on saving the airlines a dollar over any other real consideration. Whether or not they know from one plane to the next, the average jet-age customer does not care what it is so long as it does one simple thing: get there.

A former airline CEO once said “They’ll fly whatever plane I put on the damned route” if customers are only willing to pay the cheapest fares in the market. The fear behind that statement is not that without new technology prices will go up. They wish. The truth is that without new technology that provides lower operating costs the same fares they’ve been charging for 30 years will drive them out of business - $99 coast-to-coast or New York to Florida have been around since Eastern Airlines!

The 757 has replaced the 707, DC-8 and Vickers VC-10 as a transatlantic narrow-body while yesterday’s DC-10 and L-1011 are today’s A330, A340 and Boeing 777. Airplanes today fly farther which saves company and customer time and money alike. With all the CDs, movies, video games and wi-fi improvements, though, we remain strapped to a chair and bolted to a machine traveling no faster than its predecessor of 50 years ago. A 707 can get tricked out or tarted up to resemble any modern machine in the air and fares will remain absolutely unaffected.

“Today you’ll be flying on our brand new A380 to Australia, sir! Isn’t that exciting?”
“Is there enough fuel, food and drink on board to make the trip?” Yes.
“Is it gonna cost me more than the old 747 you used to have?” No.
"Will it get there any faster?" No, about the same.
“Great. I’m good to go.”

Advanced avionics are certainly appreciated yet they only build on the margin of safety and do not reinvent the wheel. The long-legged aircraft of today are good for just about anyone wanting nonstops to Singapore or South Africa but the basic truth remains: the passenger places his money and trust in the hands of the operator to provide a safe and adequate service to the destination in question, whatever type of airplane it is.

Gotta go!

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