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  • Issue #11: A short stop for men, a large step for mankind

Issue #11: A short stop for men, a large step for mankind


  • eRAM-operations will initially be limited by the range of the aircraft.

  • This problem can be tackled by making scheduled intermediate stops, like a train does.

  • But the passengers need to be up for that.

Want to know the whole story? Check out the rest below ⬇️

👩‍✈️On the menu

  • Starter: Multistop economics

  • Main course: "Our next stop is ..."

  • Dessert: The biggest hurdle


Multistop economics

A train ride is characterized by the many stops that are made along the way. The main advantage is that you only need one vehicle to service multiple locations. This leads to lower operating costs and more revenue per train since the passengers for all the different stations are in one train. So, economically it's a win-win.

The obvious downside is that the train stops more often than is required per individual passenger. For example, a passenger only wants to get on at station A and get off at station E. The additional stops at B, C and D are a waste of time. That a second passenger wants to travel from B to D is not relevant to the first one.

Even tough this type of itinerary is not that common in aviation, it does occur. I once flew with KLM from Amsterdam to Santiago (Chile) with an intermediate stop in Buenos Aires. The stop was relatively short. It looked more like a regular turnaround on a short haul flight than changing flights at a large hub.

There are not enough people willing to fly Amsterdam - Santiago and Amsterdam - Buenos Aires for a scheduled service. So, instead of having two non-profitable routes, KLM operates one profitable flight, serving both destinations on a daily basis

Jumpseating while decending into Santiago

🍲 Main course

"Our next stop is ..."

The image below shows what an eRAM-network could potentially look like when applying this concept. All airports are connected, however for some trips an extra stop is required.

The map uses well known large airports as examples, so it easier to read and understand. In reality, eRAM-operations probably won't commence at such large airports. As stated in an earlier issue, these types of flights are ideal to operate from smaller regional airports.

Using smaller airports as intermediate stations has its benefits. It will make the turnaround shorter for example. This is because there is usually a lot less traffic resulting in less holding before landing or waiting before take-off. Also the airports are smaller in size, thereby requiring less taxi time.

The most limiting factor for a quick turnaround will be the charging of the battery. Fortunately, the electric car industry already made good progress in that field. So, hopefully aviation can benefit from that. Current projections are that it will take about half an hour to charge a small passenger aircraft using a heavy-duty Megawatt Charging System in the near future.

From an airline perspective, the facilities at the intermediate station can be limited. Since both the aircraft and the crew will only be there for a short amount of time, the airline won't need a major local presence. No need for large crew facilities or aircraft hangars. A small restaurant and a briefing room for a quick touch and go will be enough.

And just like the earlier mentioned examples of the train and the KLM flight to Santiago, this type of network makes it possible to serve a larger variety of customers. Let's say you can only fill half an aircraft with people willing to fly from LHR to TXL. That won't be enough to set up an economically viable operation. However, by also being able to carry passengers who just want to fly LHR - AMS or AMS - TXL, there is a larger customer potential for that trip.

Why not let one aircraft fly one leg back and fourth and have a second one do the other?

That is possible as well. Have one aircraft fly up and down to one airport while passengers change aircraft like they are used to (by going to a different gate with a different aircraft). Thereby, the airline's network could be optimized in a way that will reduce the time passengers have to spend at the intermediate airport. With an aircraft already fully charged waiting for the new passengers to get on board.

The decision to make an aircraft fly 1) a sequence of legs or 2) up and down to one airport is up to the operator to decide. The outcome of this decision will largely depend on the ratio between the number of available aircraft versus the number of legs. When the number of available aircraft exceeds the number of legs, the airline can choose to optimize the travel time for passengers by having several aircraft flying one leg back and fourth.

However, there is a good chance that this is a luxury that eRAM-operators won't be able to afford anytime soon. On the one hand, airlines are probably not willing to buy dozens of aircraft before they have proven their value in this new type of flying. While on the other hand, they still want to operate an extended network to attract as many customers as possible. It will also require the airline to have more crew and maintenance facilities at these airports, which increases the operational costs and complexity of the total operation.

🍦 Dessert

The biggest hurdle

Whichever operating model will be used, there is no denying that passengers will need to make an additional stop when they want travel longer distances in an electric aircraft. This could feel like a step back instead of making progress.

We have seen the same with the emergence of electric cars. The first battery driven cars had a range of 100 - 150 kilometers. Which is a lot less than the 500+ kilometer range that people where used to. Electric cars where mostly used to drive in and around a city. Going on a longer trip would require some fuel stop planning in advance. Overtime, the range increased to 400 - 700 kilometers. Enough for many people to make range not a reason anymore not to buy an electric car.

In many ways, electric aircraft are developing in the same way as electric cars have. Just a few years behind. Around the end of the decade eRAM will reach the point where electric cars were five years ago. With enough range for a short trip, but a longer one will require an additional stop. Fortunately, many flights are short. For example. the most popular country to fly to from the Netherlands is the United Kingdom, it's neighbor. Longer flights, from London to Milan or Berlin for example, will take an additional stop in the foreseeable future.

However, many people don't mind that the train stops at places they don't have to be. The early adaptors in the electric cars didn't mind taking more time for a longer trip. Most people don't even mind that their smartphone needs to be charged way more often than the phone they had 15 years ago. Now aviation needs passengers that have that same mindset to be able to fly without any harmful emissions. Early adaptors that can be the start of a new product that can revolutionize the aviation industry. Are you up for that?

Thank you for getting all the way down to the end of this issue of Airline Food for Thought! If you have any questions or suggestions you can contact me via [email protected] or send me a message via LinkedIn.For more about me, visit giel.io