Free Flight

The troubles of the airline system have become acute in the post-terrorist era. As the average cost of a flight has come down in the last twenty years, the airlines have survived by keeping planes full and funneling traffic through a centralized hub-and-spoke routing system. Virtually all of the technological innovation in airplanes in the last thirty years has been devoted to moving passengers more efficiently between major hubs. But what was left out of this equation was the convenience and flexibility of the average traveler. Now, because of heightened security, hours of waiting are tacked onto each trip.

As James Fallows vividly explains, a technological revolution is under way that will relieve this problem. Free Flight features the stories of three groups who are inventing and building the future of all air travel: NASA, Cirrus Design in Duluth, Minnesota, and Eclipse Aviation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. These ventures should make it possible for more people to travel the way corporate executives have for years: in small jet planes, from the airport that's closest to their home or office directly to the airport closest to where they really want to go. This will be possible because of a product now missing from the vast array of flying devices: small, radically inexpensive jet planes, as different from airliners as personal computers are from mainframes. And, as Fallows explains in a new preface, a system that avoids the congestion of the overloaded hub system will offer advantages in speed, convenience, and especially security in the new environment of air travel.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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