As major airlines struggle to avoid bankruptcy, a growing number of entrepreneurs believe that rising fuel prices and other economic challenges represent a huge window of opportunity.
Aviation insiders are expressing quiet optimism about several projects in development that would create small, regional air fleets offering streamlined services at low cost. Some of these intriguing new companies include:
• Pocket Air. Promoters think the market is ready for a no-luggage carrier. Eliminating baggage check-in will be a huge time saver for each flight. As the name suggests, flyers on Pocket Air will be allowed to carry onboard only items that can be stashed inside pants, jackets, or other garments.
“Our philosophy is, ‘If you can’t wear it on, you can’t bring it on,’ ” a spokesman told me. “But we’ll be flexible. If someone shows up wearing three overcoats all stuffed with extra socks and underwear, they won’t be turned away.”
Without the weight of suitcases, Pocket Air expects to reap huge fuel savings. “We’re also talking with the FAA about making some planes even lighter by removing the emergency oxygen bottles,” the spokesman continued. “But we’d make sure all passengers could survive a loss in cabin pressure while the pilot descends to a lower altitude. Nobody will be allowed on those flights unless they can demonstrate the ability to hold their breath for at least three and a half minutes.”
• Happy Landings! Can an airline survive without a prearranged schedule? The backers of this venture think so. According to one investor, “The idea is that spontaneity can be successful.” Flight patterns will be determined each day by whoever shows up at the boarding gate. All patrons will have the opportunity to deplane at a wide range of venues, depending on which one is most convenient to their postflight itinerary.
The crucial element of the airline’s operating plan is a requirement that passengers exit in midair. An extensive network of freelance ground agents is now being recruited. Each contractor will install a massive foam-rubber pad in his or her backyard to catch arriving passengers.
A publicity brochure says the company is targeting “adventurous travelers who believe the most important thing in life is not the destination but the journey.”
• Sky Road Express. Planned as a short-hop shuttle for trips covering 50 miles or less, Sky Road hopes to find a niche serving rural areas of the Midwest. Planes will be fitted with telescoping wings and all-terrain drive system. Depending on weather conditions and proximity to the next stopping point, pilots can retract the wings and transport the passengers using what the company calls “non-airborne conveyance methodology.”
In response to critics who have suggested Sky Road Express (SRE) is simply an aerodynamic bus service, an SRE vice-president said, “In America, innovation doesn’t always move in a straight line. Sometimes it just brings you full circle. That’s what makes this country so great.”