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A World Without Flight

Today's Vancouver Sun has a provocative editorial wondering whether peak oil and stratospheric fuel prices might just mean the end of commercial flight as we know it. Many airlines are already struggling against rising fuel costs, with some even going belly-up. And if global efforts to curtail greenhouse gases ever started addressing commercial flight, the combination would be near-fatal to an industry whose contributions to manmade climate change are fairly staggering. So what would happen after that?

[Urban studies professor Anthony] Perl believes air travel in the future will be reserved for the rich, many of whom will use "micro jets." Others will pay big bucks to be transported in larger, fuel efficient aircraft that ply high volume, long-range routes.

He foresees a new type of passenger aircraft, designed for fuel efficiency—one that's bat-shaped, resembling a B-52 bomber, with 20-seat rows. ...

Globally, no more than 25 airports will be functional by 2025, Perl predicts, only one of them in the Pacific Northwest.

We're assuming—probably safely—that Richard Branson won't ever invent his hoped-for superjet that can fly without fossil fuels. But it's a difficult world to envision. Here in the United States, sure, a whole bunch of airline flights could become either redundant or less critical if we built ourselves a vast high-speed rail infrastructure. But what about flights overseas? Well, there's always the suggestion made by George Monbiot: Bring back the Zeppelin. Is that our future? No flying cars, no intergalactic travel, just... blimps? A flight from New York to London on an airship would take 43 hours—and that's if there are no high winds to disrupt take-off and landing. Well, as long as they offer wireless Internet and decent reclining seats, maybe it could work... And no, I'm not sure how seriously to take all of this.

--Bradford Plumer