The Internet and airports

The Internet has not made travel obsolete. Despite the eventual ability to make high quality video "phone" calls as often as we make voice calls today, the need to travel for business is not going away.

Three trends are converging that could be very good news for rural regions that are far-sighted enough to take advantage of them.

  • Trend One: The hub and spoke design of our current airline industry is at capacity, and the horrendous but now common travel delays are not going to go away. New major airports are horribly expensive, and would solve only part of the problem. Air travel is awful, and the airlines' own incompetence is part of the problem.
  • Trend Two: Businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and families continue to want to leave traffic-clogged urban areas and move to smaller communities with better quality of life.
  • Trend Three: A new generation of small, less expensive commuter planes (four to ten seats) are going to make travel from smaller airports much more affordable and convenient. Air taxi service, using these new planes, will become much more accessible, and will become a viable alternative to driving to a major airport and flying a commercial flight.

Rural regions of the country that have invested in smaller, regional airports (smaller than what the commercial airlines will use) will have a key economic development advantage in the Knowledge Economy. Commercial flights are beginning to nudge $800 to $1000 for business travel, because it is usually difficult to schedule travel weeks in advance to take advantage of bargain fares.

At those price points, air taxi service begins to look attractive, especially if you can save a full day of meals and an overnight stay. Time is also money, and point to point nonstop air taxi flights can save many wasted hours of travel time. Rural regions that have both affordable broadband AND a well run and well maintained small airport with air taxi service will have a hard to beat competitive advantage.

Here in the New River Valley, communities are debating whether we need one or two small, local airports (they are located about 30 minutes apart). Both serve important business and economic development needs, and both should be maintained and improved. In the end, it is all about attracting new businesses and keeping the ones you have. Small airports are going to become more important than excess water and sewer capacity, and at least as important as high performance, open access digital road systems.

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