I've long been a big fan of James Fallows' vision for the future of air travel: very simply put, replace an overreliance on big planes and big airports with a shift towards smalll planes and small airports. This would do a lot of good for all the reasons Fallows outlines in this post.
Pilots have seen first-hand that the only scarce resource in the air-traffic system is takeoff/landing slots at 15 or 20 big airports, and positions in the queue for those slots. Otherwise, the skies are virtually empty and most of the country's 4000-odd airports are underused. Of course that one scarce resource is the same one airline passengers confront day-in and day-out.
But making flying even more attractive than it already is would presumably have a very steep environmental cost. Yes, there are exotic research programs dedicated to sharply reducing the emissions impact of air travel, but they are very, very far from achieving viable commercial products.
This is why I was so disappointed in the near-universal condemnation of the Conservative party's Quality of Life report. ConservativeHome, no friend of the report, summarized it here. To me, it seemed like a mostly sober, modest response to real environmental challenges. Of course, the "optics" were all wrong, and it's certainly true that green issues are presently the concern of AB1 voters. The hope is that we'll eventually be able to articulate an environmental agenda that has resonance with working- and middle-class voters. But anyway, Gummer-Goldsmith put a lot of stock into discouraging domestic air travel. It would be extremely difficult for us to do the same in the US for obvious reasons, though there are certainly heavily-traveled corridors in which we could sharply improve the quality of air travel alternatives.
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