New Types of Airplanes

26 August 2008 at 17:26 | Posted in Airline Innovation, Airliners, Airlines, Budget Airlines, Innovations, Interior Design, Travel | Leave a comment
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[Category: Innovations. If you are new to my blog please read the “About itimes3” page first]

The concept of the modern jet airliner was probably invented sometime in the 1950’s, when the Boeing 707 was introduced. If you look at any other planes that hit the market since then, not much has changed. All planes look roughly the same, and operate in the same way. Sure, the Boeing 747 has a partial top deck, and the Airbus A380 has a full one, but it is still a round tube on the outside with rows of seats on the inside, and things all operate the same.

The look and feel of airliners did not change. And neither did the way we travel – this was introduced in the 1920’s or 1930’s, obviously based on the configuration of trains, trams and buses: sitting behind each other in neat rows, with seats close together to use the floor space in the most economical manner possible.

With the rise of passenger numbers world-wide, and the increasing importance of air travel globally, it seems amazing that the airline industry has not come up with better ways to travel halfway around the world than sitting in a seat for 16 hours or so, watching the back of another seat (at least, in economy class).

Perhaps it is not really surprising, as there are only two big players in the market (Airbus and Boeing) and so effective competition and innovation is perhaps less than what it would be if there were say 20 major aircraft manufacturers.

Yet it is time that we start thinking beyond the same old concept, in order to make air travel more comfortable in the long term, increase its attractiveness, even for economy passengers.

Seats in planes are close together because that way the airline gets best return on the available space. But seats are not comfortable on longer trips, and reclining them is not an option as it intrudes on co-passengers space, in the current configuration of the typical airliner.

So let’s say we have the same space, but we want to use it in a way to allow more space to recline, even lay down. To start with, we can make some observations:

If you have ever travelled in a Boeing 747-100 (the first series; the last ones were taken out of service with most airlines around 10 years ago I think), you probably remember the magnificent “headroom” this plane had. The ceiling was very high and it gave an enormous impression of space.

Later models of the Boeing 747 (such as the 300 and the 400) have much less headroom. The space above was closed off, possibly to reduce the air-conditioning required or for similar reasons. However the space is still there.

There are other planes with a lot of headroom, such as the Airbus Beluga (which follows the same design concept as the Aero Spacelines “Super Guppy” that preceded it).

So – if planes were designed not with a floor in the middle of a round tube, but more creatively, taller, with different floors, even partial ones, that could have innovatively designed, light-weight “beds” stacked above each other, or seats that would tilt people back to a degree allowing for more space.

In some cities in the world (notably in Japan) cars are stacked in car parkings. A similar concept could be used in planes, where passengers could be stacked in fully reclining seats – for example, if someone wanted to recline, the seat would be lifted off the floor into the air, reclined, and stacked there. Up to three levels of stacking could be realistic, depending on the type of plane, its shape and the row configuration.

Obviously research would need to be done into the best combination of shape (of the plane) and ways to use the internal space. But I believe there is room for significant creativity, which will pay off because air travel is so massive now, and will become bigger still.

Other design concepts could be studied too, such as catamaran-type planes (with two or more connected hulls) which would allow for more design options, delta-wings or concepts derived from military designs such as the B2 bomber, which would allow odd-shaped aircraft to fly reliably.

The question remains: are current airliners of the best possible design, or can this be improved, particularly to improve passenger comfort and options on long-haul flights, without increasing manufacturing and fit-out cost of the plane to a significant degree? It won’t be simple and will be a big change, but it will need to be done to further improve the quality and value proposition of air travel during this century.

If you like this idea and you work in a type of industry where this is relevant, I would be happy to discuss in more detail, answer questions or assist in other ways. For details and contact information please see the “About itimes3” page.

George Spark

Disclaimer: Any trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.
All usage of this site is entirely at users risk.

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The Permanent Electronic Luggage Tag

2 August 2008 at 2:00 | Posted in Airlines, Airport Security, Aviation Security, Budget Airlines, Electronic Luggage Tag, gps, Innovations, RFID Tag, Security, Travel | Leave a comment
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[Category: Innovations. If you are new to my blog please read the “About itimes3” page first]

A long time ago I changed the plastic luggage tag attached to the handle of my suitcase to only read my name, my mobile number and my email address – destination address, originating address, and any other cumbersome information henceforth ommitted, I don’t waste time anymore updating the tag for each flight.

However there is still the time consuming and messy process of attaching paper (or paper-like plastic) destination tags to the luggage at check-in. I don’t have to do that, but I have to wait for it, and it is an old-fashioned solution with more cons than pros.

The problem with the paper tags is that they are in most cases still based on optical technology (large human readable airport code, and machine-readable barcode), which makes them more prone to be the cause of handling errors. And even when they have an embedded RFID tag (which was experimented with at some airports and may still be ongoing, I am not sure), they are still fragile as they depend on the sticky surface being applied correctly, plus this type of label sticks out so can catch on objects and be torn off, with as a result lost luggage.

Another problem is that printing and attaching the destination tags is a cumbersome process that takes too much time at check-in. If printing and attaching the label(s) for an average passenger takes 30 seconds, it will take 150 minutes for a flight with 300 people. That’s more than two hours of staff time! And even at an unrealistically low average of 10 seconds, it would still take 50 minutes per flight, nearly an hour of staff time.

And finally, it is a waste of resources (tons of plastic and paper thrown away worldwide every day), and a messy business removing the tags at the other end.

To fix this issue permanently, I propose the creation of a permanent electronic tag.

This tag can be built into the suitcase at manufacture, or attached to a handle if the suitcase does not have one built in, or the built-in one is broken (or perhaps it can be glued like a sticker to the suitcase, inside or out, if it is flat enough). These attachable tags would be for sale at the airport, and should be reasonable in cost (a few dollars each max; perhaps a durable and a cheaper non-durable version could be offered).

This tag would have (at least) two items of information: The first item being the owner’s details, with email address and phone number, and including perhaps a passport number or other means of identification (however not home address or similar, to avoid risk of “burglary in absence” should someone unauthorised read the tag at the airport).
The second item would be the flight details, including destination, flight number, etc.

These two items are in a sense independent from each other: the owner of the luggage should be able to change the personal details, however the flight details should only be changeable at check-in, and show up on a screen there so both the check-in attendant and the suitcase owner can verify the details are correct.

During processing, the flight details are read off the tag by proximity scanners located along the conveyer belts etc. and also when entering the aircraft, as well as when leaving it and during arrivals processing.

The personal details in the tag can be used as proof of ownership should this be disputed in any way at destination, or to locate the owner should the luggage be lost somehow.

The technology should be based on current RFID technology, with the difference that the tags will be built to have a near-permanent durability. The system could be built and marketed globally by the big airport luggage handling manufacturers, for example, in association with airlines, the luggage manufacturing industry and likely at least some other global players in the travel world, particularly to handle the IT and data processing side of the project.

Additional features of this type of tagging would include the ability to “read” all tags of all luggage in the hold of an aircraft in one hit (provided the right active technology us used), so that a list of luggage can quickly be matched to passenger lists.

The system, once implemented, could then also be used for cargo, which probably would be equipped with less permanent RFID tags.

Note: here is the link to the Wikipedia entry on RFID tags, which provides a lot of information about the technology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RFID

In the more distant future, a tag or beacon based on GPS-technology could be used, so that each piece of luggage could be tracked anywhere in the world by satellite. The technology exists, but is perhaps somewhat expensive still…

If you like this idea and you work in a type of industry where this is relevant, I would be happy to discuss in more detail, answer questions or assist in other ways. For details and contact information please see the “About itimes3” page.

George Spark

Disclaimer: Any trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.
All usage of this site is entirely at users risk.

The Ultimate Travel Booking Website

30 July 2008 at 23:52 | Posted in Airlines, Budget Airlines, Innovations, Online Booking, Online Travel Booking, Travel | Leave a comment
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[Category: Innovations. If you are new to my blog please read the “About itimes3” page first]

If you have ever tried to book a somewhat complex travel itinerary online, say six or seven cities within a fairly tight schedule, and you also wanted to have a choice of all available airlines (including budget airlines) and see all available flights and prices, *and* don’t pay more than you have to, you know how time consuming this can be.

A short while ago I did this, wanting to book a trip from Sydney to Thailand to Singapore to Hong Kong to Indonesia to Malaysia to Thailand and back to Sydney. It took me the better part of a day. Why? First I had to find out all the airlines that operate on all the sectors I wanted to fly. Using “popular” sites such as Expedia, Zuji and the like is not an option as they work with a limited selection of airlines and tend to be more expensive than if using airline websites directly. Amadeus.net can help find some prices but it also operates only with some of the bigger airlines, not all of them. Budget airlines in particular are almost never featured on the major travel booking sites. So you go and google for all the airlines in the region, which takes awhile. Particularly budget airlines, new ones come up all the time and may offer new destinations, cheaper flights, etc.

After an hour or two you have a list of all the websites of all the airlines that fly each of the sectors you want, and a bit of an idea what the reputation of these airlines is (the smaller ones I tend to google for reputation, to see how many wrecks they had in recent times, just to be on the safe side 😉 – but it takes more time).

Then you have to go and find the best flights for each sector you want. The required time of arrival and/or departure. The price difference between the various flights available. The availability of seats on each flight. Any caveats and hidden extras (such as below-standard baggage allowances, which a number of budget airlines use). Running all the prices in local currency through oanda.com to have an idea what you’re actually going to pay. This takes, in my experience, another two to three hours if you want all the details on six or seven sectors.

Then, when you have all the information you want, you have a look at it all and make your decisions. Then you go back in and book each flight – usually on the airline’s own website, which not only offers the best price in most cases, but also extras such as direct selection of your preferred seat etc. However this once again takes half an hour or so, stepping through the various screens on each site, entering the credit card details, and waiting for confirmation etc.

Finally, you have to check and print out each of the e-tickets, which takes another 10 minutes or so (only when travelling in Brazil last year did I have my e-tickets txt-ed to my cellphone, but then Brazil is surprisingly more modern than many people think).

So after the above experiences, I was wondering why nobody has yet come up with the Ultimate Travel Booking Website, which I believe should look like this (or something very similar; details to be finetuned, this is an initial “draft sketch” of the proposed site):

  • Website asks for size of itinerary: one country only; one continent only; or multiple continents: select which country or continent(s).
  • Website shows map of selected area (one country, one continent, multiple continents or whole world), below a box as follows:
  • Box shows “Details of first sector” or similar asking user to check boxes of required flight details:
    – date of flight
    – economy, business or first class (or no preference)
    – include or exclude budget airlines
    – preferred departure time (precise time to be entered; or am or pm preference, has to be this date; or flexible with dates)
    – list airlines based on lowest cost first, or list airlines based on flights available as close as possible to requested time
    – only show flights with available seats in preferred class, or list all flights regardless of availability
    – only show direct flights or show all flights
  • After completing above box of details, user draws, using the mouse, a line from one city to another, representing the first sector of the itinerary.
  • Once the line has been drawn, the system extracts the relevant data from its database which contains all flight data for all commercial flights in the world (including budget airlines), and presents it on screen, for the user to select the preferred flight for that sector. IMPORTANT: the user has the option to “tentatively select” so changes can be made later. Each airline will have a rating based on user input (using up to five stars, or a system using percentages such as on eBay for example) – this will give an initial indication of user experiences with an airline. If the airline has less than say 25 ratings, it will show as “unrated”, so the user knows it may be good to google for details on this airline prior to making a booking decision.
  • Once the preferred flight has been selected, user has option to finish or to continue building the itinerary.
  • Alternatively, the user can draw lines to other cities which will immediately and rapidly bring up the details for the new choice.
  • Upon the choice to continue, the above procedure repeats, positioning a new “Details of second sector” box for the user to fill out. This box inserts itself below the first box, but above the map.
  • After filling out the second box, the user draws the second line (from the city first arrived in to the next city).
  • And so forth.
  • At the end of the process, the user is redirected, sector by sector, to the websites of the airlines for payment (or this would be handled by the system, which could present a single invoice).

The main ideas being:

  • The user fills out an on-screen box (web page) with details for each sector, which forms the basis for the searches conducted thereafter.
  • Once the on-screen box has been completed, the system is highly flexible. It allows the user to “experiment” drawing lines between different cities at will and immediately brings up the relevant data, so the user has an overview of all available options to any city nearly immediately. This type of system would allow for flexible and fast travel planning, including researching alternative options. This is, to my knowledge, not available anywhere on the Internet today.
  • The user has flexibility to make changes in one box, which then “ripple through” to other boxes (the system keeps track of changes across the itinerary).
  • The user gets charged the same price as the airlines charge (to avoid the user only using the system for information, then booking at the airline website).

The business model would be that the airlines agree to pay the site operator a small amount, such as two dollars per sector booked, for example, which they agree to deduct off their own website’s ticket price (so for example if Qantas charges $100 for a sector on their website, they agree to sell that sector for $98 to the site operator, which charges the customer $100 for it, and keeps $2). The cost to develop the website would be the main expense. After the site is online, costs would be mainly with chasing up airlines to provide their databases to the website in time, plus general support and administration. This can be automated to a large degree. Airlines would be inclined to agree to the $2 charge because this type of website would quickly become a major player in the online travel sales game. Different people would use the site: those looking for a bargain, and those looking for the best possible connection. For this reason, all airlines will be interested in participating.

The site could generate additional revenue by offering hotel deals, car rental, etc. ideally also using the same model, e.g. the customer can select from hotels and car rental outlets in arrival cities based on a price or availability. The site could make deals with the likes of wotif.com for the hotels for example, and once again gain a modest but fully automatic commission from each deal.

For people looking at booking first class travel, the site could also offer private jet and share jet options, earning commission from this type of booking.

Additional features could be added to the site, such as organising of conferences and getting all delegates tickets and hotels booked through the system, local entertainment and restaurant bookings, and even migration features including linking to information about local rental accommodation, car dealerships, employment websites etc. in arrival cities. This would obviously be done using database feeds from these operators, so the site would not need to worry about content, only design the initial user interface/presentation for it.

I have many detailed ideas about this website opportunity however in the interest of (relative) brevity I shall leave it at this.

If you like this idea and you work in a type of industry where this is relevant, I would be happy to discuss in more detail, answer questions or assist in other ways. For details and contact information please see the “About itimes3” page.

George Spark

Disclaimer: Any trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.
All usage of this site is entirely at users risk.

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