Will Air Travel Become Integrated With Living and Working? February 27, 2011Posted by Peter Varhol in Strategy.
I enjoy air travel, for the most part. I think face-to-face relationships are important, but not critical. I like looking at the future trends and imagining what the world may be like ten, twenty, or fifty years in the future.
That’s why I read this weekend’s Wall Street Journal feature on Cities of the Sky with a sense of fascination. The premise was that future urban living around the world is being built in conjunction with (mostly new) hub airports. The pull quote was that “The Silk Road of the future is taking shape in urban developments based on airport hubs.”
The primary examples were Dubai with its new airport and base for Emirates Airline, Abu Dhabi, Doha in Qatar, Incheon Airport and New SongDo City in South Korea, and Chongqing in China. New, planned cities combined with major air hubs (New SongDo City), or existing cities highly integrated with new international airports, are an essential part of commerce and life in the new century.
An implied premise is that air travel is rapidly increasing, especially in the Middle East and Asia, where industrialization and rising incomes are creating both the desire and the need to connect across the globe. Some of the trend also comes from cargo, where manufacturing facilities are being co-located with major airports for ease of shipping electronic components or other small, lightweight products.
And it need not be only for Asia and the Middle East, although these are the primary regions building new airports today (the US has built one entirely new airport in the last 45 years – Denver International). The Americas are still one of the world’s dominant market, both mature and developing. The article notes that Honduras is considering building such a city-airport combination as a hub for north-south commerce and enterprise in the western hemisphere. And Detroit is apparently in the early stages of creating such an urban area integrated with its fine international airport.
This trend excites me. It describes a way of organizing segments of urban society that is substantially different from what we do today. The article notes that the model “aerotropolis” is a vibrant economic powerhouse situated only three or four hours from large chunks of the world population. There seems to be a compelling logic to this type of social organization.
Now, I’m also very much of an online person. Even before the widespread use of the Internet, I worked in distributed groups, and established good working relationships with colleagues I had never met in person. I currently work with people across the US and in Europe, and maybe get to meet them once or twice a year. Yet I do my share of traveling, and live less than an hour from a major US airport (and only a few minutes from a fine regional airport).
But for what I do, I don’t see the need to be three hours away from a billion or more people. I can understand that there is a significant part of world commerce, but on reflection it doesn’t strike me as the future of business and life. It almost seems to be more of a temporary or transitional stage, from an industrialized era where goods were shipped through rail or seaports, to one in which the movement of goods takes a definite back seat to the movement of information.