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monsoon

Last Great Days of the Charlotte Airport

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I saw an article that said that Americans are quickly becoming unable to afford air travel. With oil headed to $150/barrel and possibly $200 in the next 5 years, air travel may be doomed like the SUV. Unlike automobiles there are really no practical alternatives to power a jet airplane. They consume huge amounts of fossil fuel and expel equally huge amounts of carbon in the atmosphere to move a relatively few number of people. It's an industry that was built on the premise of cheap abundant oil with little regard to the environmental costs. High oil and environmental costs have already killed the Concord (no replacement) and it now threatens to move down the food chain of air travel.

So the question for this topic are we seeing the last great days of the Charlotte airport? There would seem to be no long term answers for maintaining the status quo short of oil prices falling 50% and that doesn't seem very likely. What alternatives are there?

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I saw an article that said that Americans are quickly becoming unable to afford air travel. With oil headed to $150/barrel and possibly $200 in the next 5 years, air travel may be doomed like the SUV. Unlike automobiles there are really no practical alternatives to power a jet airplane. They consume huge amounts of fossil fuel and expel equally huge amounts of carbon in the atmosphere to move a relatively few number of people. It's an industry that was built on the premise of cheap abundant oil with little regard to the environmental costs. High oil and environmental costs have already killed the Concord (no replacement) and it now threatens to move down the food chain of air travel.

So the question for this topic are we seeing the last great days of the Charlotte airport? There would seem to be no long term answers for maintaining the status quo short of oil prices falling 50% and that doesn't seem very likely. What alternatives are there?

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In the greater sense, it would be an absolute dream, environmentally and urbanistically (yes, this is a word ;) ), for this country to heavily reinvest in the rail network and build up higher speed intercity rail systems to dovetail with the air travel system. There is no reason that intra-state and regional travel should be by air, given the massive environmental and energy use that that entails.

The rail system is severely broken. To take rail to Atlanta from here, the only option leaves at 2:45AM and takes 5 1/2 hours to get there. To take rail to DC, the trip is 8 hours if you leave at 2AM, and 9 1/2 hours if you leave at 7:40AM. Meanwhile the cost is still quite high. The cost is high due to lack of ridership diluting the fixed costs, the schedule is bad because of the lack of riders, the lack of riders is due to the high cost, the bad schedule, and the long travel time. The railway infrastructure is so poor, a result of a total lack of spending to upgrade the network. It would be unthinkable to have only a one lane road between large cities, but that is how the rail network is. Much of it is owned by the freight companies, who don't have much incentive to spend billions of dollars to reduce travel time by an hour or two.

Anyway, my point is that it may very well be that we have reached a level of environmental crisis and energy cost that the superfluous air travel may need to end. Mergers will help reduce the excess capacity, but eventually, we will need to correct the fact that our transportation system relies to much on sending a few hundred people up in the air at a time.

Inefficiency catches up to individuals and societies eventually.

But in the interim, since we are so reliant on air travel as it is, I hope that end result of this consolidation does not limit Charlotte's accessibility.

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I think eventually we will have rail again but it will take a political or economic shock to bring it about. Or, it could be the steady drip,drip, drip of ever-increasing oil prices. I can see us having cars because they've become super-efficient and rail , but greatly reduced air because it's inefficient compared to future car and rail. Obviously, Boeing is on the right track with the Dreamliner and Airbus took the wrong path with the A380 super jumbo.

But in the meantime, I hope UA/US comes about. I think the greater danger is to PHL rather than CLT in this merger, as it's closer to Dulles than Charlotte is. But you never know.

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Good topic. Rail is a lot more common in europe than it is over here (I know what I'm talking about, I'm austrian)! Airfares are already twice as high as 6 or 7 months ago (depends on carrier of course). I fly the LH Munich route a lot and it's twice as expensive as it used to be in October 2007. Well rail is very nice but for now there's no way to cross the oceans. So if u wanna go to asia or europe u cant get around a plane. By the way Airbus has also the A350 which is the more fuel efficient plane compared to the Dreamliner. And there's still a market for jumbos like A380. Anyway I also think rail should be improved a lot in the U.S. because I liked it a lot over there in europe travelling with TGV, ICE or the Eurostar. Hopefully I didn't go off topic so I get banned again.

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I don't think that the Charlotte airport or the airline industry in general is doomed.

In the near term we could see some local cargo airlines fall by the wayside. They have aleady seen a big decline in demand for their service as the price of oil has risen and their planes are some of the oldest and most fuel inefficient in use.

Our dominant carrier US Airways is financially stable and in a couple years will have the most fuel effiecient aircraft fleet of the US majors. Our airport is adding a new runway to releive congestion which will also save the airlines money...probably more than $100M per year in fuel costs.

There are a lot more effiecenies that can be squeezed out of the airline industry before it would hit rock bottom. The most obvious one being the Air Traffic Control system which runs on 1970s era technology and is the root cause of a lot of congestion. The airplanes themselves will be getting more efficient with the new generation of composite lighter weight planes coming out (Boeing 787 and Airbus A350). They are also testing new engine technology to make them even better.

All that being said we do need to invest more in passenger rail...that is a no brainer. But the doomsday for aviation is not here (yet)

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I believe that the bubble driving high oil prices will burst and prices will drop to more normal historical levels (meaning adjusted for inflation and all). I think that will end the current crisis for the most part.

Also, since this topic focuses on Charlotte-Douglas specifically...If USAirways and United merge, I think that will push so much new traffic through Charlotte (I'm assuming this will be their SE hub and will be built out over several years with many new flights) that instead of this being the "Last Great Days" it will be the calm before the (building) storm.

It's fun to speculate...

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A silver lining inherent in those who see the dooms day angle of an imminent US recession is that it might necessitate another FDR-like era of massive infrastructure building, which would almost definitely be rail, intra and inter-city. So perhaps a total collapse of our economy and way of life could be a good thing [eventually]. As far as air, it is my uninformed gut feeling that large jet technology has stagnated due to lack of pressures to update it, this may be just the kick in the @ss it needs.

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Unlike automobiles there are really no practical alternatives to power a jet airplane.

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Given the current economic incentives and current technology, yes. But if the price of a fuel becomes enough of a bottleneck, somebody will figure out a practical alternative eventually.

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If the Charlotte airport is doomed due to high fuel prices, so is the American suburb and subdivision, both of which are dependent on automobiles. Add to that our reliance on trucking for all of our goods, and well, we're all doomed. The price of food will skyrocket due to transportation costs and the use of petrochemical-dependent agriculture. None of us will be able to afford to drive to the Wal-Mart or Harris Teeter, etc to keep retail going. To quote REM, "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)".

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To a degree, all those things are happening. Food prices are through the roof globally, and absurd food-miles are starting to come to light (recently cited example of Norwegian fish air-freighted to China for filleting and flown back to Norway grocers) due to tax loopholes and general lack of trying.

Also, part of the economic crisis we are in seems to be the lack of sustainability of the suburban american dream, where lower middle class people can simply go out to the fringes of a metropolitan area and rely on cheap transportation costs to make it possible. Now, people are chosing between food, gas, and mortgage payments, and many are chosing food by walking away from their mortgage and the associated transport and energy costs. That is huge over simplification, but you can certainly make the case that this effect is happening.

Sea change does occur, especially during times of economic turmoil. The examples you cited, MC, are how so much in our society relies on constantly sending massive vehicles up into the air. The costs to do it, though, is starting to lose competitiveness with traditional transportation methods.

I don't predict that we'll see the level of change that others might predict, but some level of consolidation, and shifting to rail transportation for regional travel, while cutting out absolutely absurd freight travel from the economy NEEDS to happen.

(Also, monsoon, I noticed a blurb about the nuclear airships just yesterday in Wired. Ha! They said the main problem was exposing all the crew to radiation, so the proposed solution was to use 'older pilots'. Gotta love it.)

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I believe the suburbs will be the first to go before airlines. This is all reminding me of a book I read for my Urban Policies class in college, "The Old Neighborhood" by Ray Suarez. It's one of those countless books detailing the "death" of the northern cities. It was written in 1999, so it's still a really good read. But I have a feeling in 5-10 years, we will be reading books of the demise of the suburbs and the sprawl that happened in the south (and the north).

Maybe I should start documenting it right now so I can write that book!

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The rail system is severely broken. To take rail to Atlanta from here, the only option leaves at 2:45AM and takes 5 1/2 hours to get there. To take rail to DC, the trip is 8 hours if you leave at 2AM, and 9 1/2 hours if you leave at 7:40AM. Meanwhile the cost is still quite high. The cost is high due to lack of ridership diluting the fixed costs, the schedule is bad because of the lack of riders, the lack of riders is due to the high cost, the bad schedule, and the long travel time. The railway infrastructure is so poor, a result of a total lack of spending to upgrade the network. It would be unthinkable to have only a one lane road between large cities, but that is how the rail network is. Much of it is owned by the freight companies, who don't have much incentive to spend billions of dollars to reduce travel time by an hour or two.

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Is the Gateway Transit Station still going in? That would make a huge difference. I think everyone here would agree that intercity/state rail is going to be a necessity. Here is the NC site for rail that includes the building of the high speed. http://www.bytrain.org/

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Is the Gateway Transit Station still going in? That would make a huge difference. I think everyone here would agree that intercity/state rail is going to be a necessity. Here is the NC site for rail that includes the building of the high speed. http://www.bytrain.org/

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As discussed in the North line thread a few months ago, only a portion of the Gateway station budget is included in the North line budget, but yes, it is still being planned. But I must say that while this is a good thing for providing pedestrian options and transfer options to transit, this is a very good thing, it isn't that germane to rail competiveness with air. The station is ugly and in a weird place, but so is the airport. The issue is that when you get on the train, you must deal with the terrible schedules and travel times, and pay what is arguably a high price for that. I had a friend take the train to DC recently and it ended up taking 12 hours due to problems with a freight train on the tracks. They didn't let any of them know ahead of time, the train simply stopped and waited for hours and hours. Granted, that happens sometimes in air travel, too, but with rail, it seems like there are often problems like that.

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