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.

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