Most airports as we know them today are big, centralized, and serve many thousands of people in a day. But what if there were little airports all over the place, with small (two-to-four passenger), cheap, automated, energy-efficient aircraft in the place of hulking airliners? We wouldn’t need as many roads, commutes would be far faster, and a lot of energy could potentially be saved versus traditional air travel.
Such is the basic thinking behind the CAFE [Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency] Foundation’s Green Flight Challenge, which envisions a landscape dotted with “pocket airports” which are served by Suburban Air Vehicles [SAVs]. In the words of CAFE president Dr. Brien Seeley, “The shocking news is, that after a full century of flight, aviation still fails to fulfill the fundamental purpose of moving people fast without need of roads … We now believe that green technology can solve this.”
The basic single-runway pocket airports would be no larger than two acres (0.8 hectares) in size, and located in greenbelts just outside major urban areas. They would be capable of 120 operations per hour, as rows of SAVs/air taxis would wait for their turn to take off, one going every 30 seconds. CAFE also has designs for a 4-acre (1.6-hectare) airport that would have three runways arranged in a triangle, that would be capable of 260 operations per hour, plus an 8-acre (3.2-hectare) version with two end-to-end runways (with a large space in between them), and a 12-acre (4.8-hectare) version with two sets of the end-to-end runways and parking for 320 ground vehicles.
The airports would require SAVs to be capable of a very steep take-off, as the planes would have to be at least 150 feet (46 meters) in the air by the time they cleared the airport’s boundaries – “high enough to not be heard by the back yard barbecuers in the residences nearby.”
In the current air security-concerned landscape, this would be a tough sell: One Slashdotter quips that “Electric power might be a contender here, as you could use the 3 hours you will spend being x-rayed, swabbed, fingerprinted and cavity-searched before each flight to charge the battery.” And safety is obviously a huge concern: CAFE proposes a central control system to coordinate flight paths, plus parachutes, but this system would need some serious testing before people got onboard considering that the cost of a even a small mistake could very well be the lives of several passengers. Still, our transportation infrastructure could use a tune-up, and if this sort of planning is what’s needed for us to enter the era of (safe, hassle-free) flying cars, bring it on.
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