Saturday, May 24, 2008

Opportunity Knocks: Can anyone build a better plane?

I booked flights the other day. Ouch. Since I travel by air four or five times a year, I watch the industry a little. Its struggling. Its fleet is aging, fuel prices have a big impact on bottom line, and nearly everything about airlines is regulated or unionized. Business models are old. A few carriers, like Southwest, are doing sort of okay, and the others are doing less than okay.

We think that we need more fuel efficient cars? We do. And airlines need better jets.

Yet access to new planes is controlled by a worldwide duopoly: Airbus and Boeing. Boeing is late on its popular (but still not flying) Dreamliner, and just announced a probably multi-year delay in completing design for 737 replacement. Airbus isn't doing well enough to take up that slack, and may be adding to the shortage of anything modern or useful available for sale. So the existing airplane suppliers are in trouble, but the demand for airplanes is huge. Airplanes and air flight, and even better, pleasant air flight like we once enjoyed (How long has it been since you looked forward to getting on a plane?).

I bet someone out there is assembling a design team to beat Boeing and Airbus to the punch. Yes, it's a high barrier to entry. Yes it's an expensive and risky and regulated process. But look how much good it could do the world. And whoever makes an agile and green plane first, might also see a pretty good reward.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Acid Red Flags

Eight years ago, I heard oceanographer Sylvia Earle keynote an international GIS conference. Her talk deepened my understanding of the importance of the oceans, which I pretty much got anyway, and of their fragility. They don't look fragile. I grew up in sailing family and they often felt vast, beautiful, awe-inspiring, moody, etc. But I wouldn't have used the word fragile until I heard Sylvia talk.
This morning, the Seattle Times reports that ocean acidification is happening faster than climate change models predicted (remember - one of my predictions for 2008 was that many indicators would, unfortunately, come faster than predicted). Apparently our coastlines are plagued by water that is hard for marine life to live in. As our might be soon (is? In some places, for sure, because of the same things we're doing that cause climate change).
Here is a short quote from the article, "All along the coast, the scientists found regions where the water was acidic enough to dissolve the shells and skeletons of clams, corals and many of the tiny creatures at the base of the marine food chain. Acidified water also can kill fish eggs and a wide range of marine larvae."

Monday, May 19, 2008

If a legendary Texas oilman says it....

The end quote of an interview that CNN published today with T. Boone Pickens is, "But we are going to have to do something different in America. You can't keep paying out $600 billion a year for oil."
The guts of the story are that Mr. Pickens is going into wind farming. I can't think of better people to do this than oilmen and oilwomen (surely there must be oilwomen?). These are people that understand the energy markets and know how to make viable energy businesses. And it takes their money - hopefully a lot of it -- out of the losing game of squeezing ever more oil out of every possible source.
Nice to have a bit of good news in this generally bad-news era.