I recently spent a week in Brittany (see various postings here, staying with friends who live in the city of Quimper, which at the south west end of the Brittany peninsula, just before you get to the final southern tip.
I’ve stayed with these friends before, and on every trip before this latest one, I’ve flown Ryanair from Stansted to Brest, Brest being about an hour by car north of Quimper. But the bad news is that Brest airport has recently constructed a swanky new Norman Foster type building, with lots of sloping glass and metal struts everywhere and a general absence of rectangles. Somewhere in among all these new arrangements, there was a fight with Ryanair, the upshot of which was that Ryanair no long does flights from Stansted to Brest. Strangely, though, Ryanair still does flights from Brest to Marseilles.
I’m guessing that this either has to do with money or with time, or perhaps a bit of both. Maybe Brest airport wants to be paid more, or Brest itself wants to pay less, for Ryanair flights to and from London. Or, the new airport arrangements mean that Ryanair can’t turn its planes around as quickly as it used to be able to.
Also, you can’t help suspecting that perhaps Brest built itself a posh new airport terminal because it wants a better class of persons to come to Brest from London, and from many other classy spots, and the dribble of Ryanair riff-raff to stay away. Maybe some day soon there will again be flights Brest/London flights, but more expensive ones, containing richer and better dressed persons. But those are just guesses.
Anyway, whatever may have caused the Brest/London Ryanair flights to end, for this latest visit I had to go from Stansted to Dinard, which is the airport of the port city of Saint Malo, which is at the other end of the Brittany peninsula, to its north west, about four hours drive from Quimper. Very tiresome. My hosts kindly collected me from there on the way. And on the way back, I and Mrs Host were both going to London, so we went by train from Quimper to Saint Malo (changing at Rennes), and then took a bus to Dinard and a taxi from Dinard to the airport itself. All very cumbersome.
It did give us a chance to wander about in Saint Malo, which was good, and I got to go by train in France, which I’ve not done for decades, unless you count Eurotunnel trips to Belgium, Germany, etc.
While we relaxed in the small bar at Dinard airport, Mrs Host and I agreed about how agreeable these small airports are, compared to huge designer cattle shed airports like Stansted, and such as Brest seems now to want to be. Mrs Host reminisced about a cheep and delightfully informal flight she once took from a tiny airfield in Kent, to a similar airport not very near to Paris, for about £45 in about 1990, in a propeller driven plane. Our preference was confirmed hideously when we got to Stansted, at about eleven o’clock at night, to find ourselves at the back of a vast hoard of incomers to London, waiting while too few people indolently looked at everyone’s passport. Were they seeking a terroristic pin? If so, we were the haystack. It was bank queue hell multiplied by a hundred. Actually, it was over rather sooner than it at first looked like it would be, but first impressions were deeply unpleasant, and are hard to forget.
This experience makes me think that the long-term future of air travel is lots of small airports rather than a few big ones. The big ones can’t get any bigger, or nastier. And the bigger the big airport planes (I’m thinking A380) get, the naster it will get to use these airports.
Dinard airport, meanwhile, was a delight. It’s not quite just the one shed. An architect was involved at some point in making the ugly boxy building where you congregate, but this feels more like a railway station than an airport, and what is more a railway station that is quite a bit smaller and more relaxed than, say, Rennes railway station. Dinard airport is small, and shows no sign of wanting to get any bigger.
Indeed, if that bar we relaxed in is anything to go by, they positively glory in their smallness. There are pictures there of old airplanes, with propellers, and of people in goggles posing in black and white or sepia in front of byplanes. There were things like this ...:
… and this:
Boeing having bet their farm on the Dreamliner, a two engined go-anywhere improvement on the now ubiquitous Boeing 737 (which is what Ryanair now uses for most of its flights, including all my Brittany trips). Airbus have bet their farm on the A380, a four engine enlargement of the Boeing 747.
In the short run, maybe Airbus have a point. If the current question is: How can we get more cattle through the big cattle shed airports?, then the A380 may well be the answer. And if the question is: How can we give more legroom to more money-no-object globetrotters, trotting globally from one huge financial centre to another?, ditto.
But what if, in the longer run, the question turns into: What’s the best way to get little clumps of people, inexpensively, from a small airport somewhere in the world but nowhere in particular (like Dinard or for that matter Quimper, which also has a small railway station type airport) to another small airport somewhere else in the world, for the tiny number of people who want that particular journey, yet who don’t want to be treated too much like a herd of cattle?
Maybe if you run the air passenger business, and run airports, the first two questions are what you now obsess about. But speaking as a passenger, I can tell you that I greatly prefer the latter question.
I want a Dreamliner world, rather than an A380 world.
I see that I have blogged here before about this great commercial Confrontation Of Our Time. In that earlier posting I quoted someone saying this:
How would you like to line up at customs having just gotten off the back of the second or third A-380 to arrive? Would passport control take longer than the flight?
Exactly. What I feared was going to happen at Stansted on the night I passed through this week, would happen, at a truly mega-airport like Heathrow, for real.
I could ramble ever onwards, but instead I will say: over to Michael Jennings for more detailed answers to all of my questions, and for many more facts to back up or contradict my speculations.
Today Instapundit linked to a report about how the HondaJet recently flew for the first time at its maximum speed of close to 500 mph. Later (or maybe I just missed it the first time around) he added to his posting a link back to a piece he himself wrote a year ago about this airplane. Good, I thought, because I had been wondering why he considered the HondaJet so worthy of his linkage.
Here is why:
The HondaJet is the brainchild of Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino. Fujino told me that his first job in the United States was in Mississippi, back in the 1980s, and that he found that wherever he traveled by air - even elsewhere in Mississippi - he usually wound up having to change planes in Atlanta. This seemed wasteful of time and fuel, and made travel iffier, since it created the risk of a missed connection. To Fujino, the hub-and-spoke system makes sense for a country like Japan, where Tokyo is at the center of everything, but much less sense for a country as big as the United States, where important places are widely distributed. For this, point-to-point travel is much better.
This is no secret, of course, to the people who travel by private jet now. But private jet travel is very expensive, which is why it is the domain of CEOs, celebrities and the like. The HondaJet represents an effort at changing all of that, by using technology and design to bring costs down and allow private-jet travel at costs that approach commercial ticket prices. (Fully loaded, Fujino says, the cost per seat on the HondaJet should be roughly comparable to a first-class commercial ticket). To keep costs down, the Honda folks have put a lot of thought into ways to make the plane as small and inexpensive as possible, without sacrificing comfort or speed.
I’m intrigued by the way the jet engines are above rather than below the wings. This enables the landing gear to be directly under the engines, which means the wings need to do less structural work. Hanging the airplane from its jets, so to speak, enables everything else to be nearer to the ground, which is convenient in all sorts of ways. Including, I guess, that it makes the landing gear less bulky, because it has to reach down less.
Clearly, billionaires are a big part of the target market. Billionaires may buy more - and more expensive - stuff than the rest of us, but at their own spending level they are presumably just as price sensitive as the rest of us. That they have so much money suggests to me that they have a history of being careful with it. So, I’m guessing lots of them will like this cheaper private jet, and lots of others will reckon this to be the first private jet worth buying.
But Honda are not expecting everyone who flies the HondaJet to be an owner of a HondaJet, or an employee or friend or relative of such an owner. They also anticipate something more like a taxi model of USA air travel to develop.
It all sounds very promising.
It’s sort of the opposite extreme to the A380, the ultimate hub airliner. That is trying to make air travel cheaper by making the biggest planes even bigger. The HondaJet makes air travel cheaper by making the smallest and most convenient planes, that can still go fast and over long distances, cheaper. The HondaJet is, you might say, the Dreamliner, only more so. Or to put it another way, the HondaJet, it is hoped, will do to travel within the USA what others hope the Dreamliner will do for travel worldwide.
Last night a few of the Transport Blog crew met up in Central London. Surprisingly enough the subject of transport did in fact crop up now and again.
One discussion we had was over the Boeing 787. It seems that one of the big advantages of its lightweight construction is that it allows higher cabin pressures. For some reason, it’s to do with white blood cells apparently, this means that passengers won’t be so tired when they reach their destinations. It’s amazing how advances in technology can have strange knock-on effects. I wonder if the Airbus 380 will be similarly blessed. I suspect not.
Another discussion was over train gauges. They differ between Spain and France, so how, we wondered did Rob manage to board a train that managed to take him all the way from Paris to Barcelona? And how did they manage to make the change of gauge without him noticing? This is how.