First, thank you to the innovators, the innovative companies and the individuals who are behind the scenes. Many remain hidden. Each is a necessary part of the innovation delivery process.

Innovation by itself is interesting but must cross a goal line to be effective.

This year, 2021, is a foundational year for travel and travelers. Not only are we traveling again, but major accomplishments have taken shape, and announcements that affect the future of travel.

Here’s an overview.

This year, United Airlines invested $35 million in Heart Aerospace to buy 100 ES-19 electric aircraft.[1]

This year, American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic announced investments in Vertical Aerospace’s VA-X4, a piloted, zero-emissions electric-vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle.[2]

This year, United Airlines signed a commercial agreement with Denver-based aerospace company Boom Supersonic for 15 of Boom’s Overture supersonic aircraft.[3]

Electric flight happened in 1917 with a tethered helicopter. In 1928, Nicola Tesla patented Fixed-Wing, Vertical Take Off and Landing. And, we’ve done supersonic passenger planes since the first flight of Concorde in 1969. 

This year, major new aircraft type purchases, and innovations happened. Billionaires flew into space. Artificial Intelligence driving systems decisions are growing. And, both sides of the climate change aisle are engaged.

Is it possible we can move forward with new transportation means while addressing climate change, and current technology limitations? If so, where do we start?

The Foolish Guys Club

In the last two weeks, Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos flew into space. Not together. Branson took a plane. Bezos took a rocket. Each of the parts that went up came down to be reused. That’s good.

I’m a travel guy and sustainable-aware, so when all this hits within a few months of each other, my head wanted to explode! In the practice of innovation, it is the convergence of a vision, initiative, process, technologies, and some money. Each in varying amounts. Some more (or less) necessary than others.

Florida East Coast Railroad (from the book, Last Train to Paradise)

I grew up in South Florida. This reminds me of the guy who connected Miami with the rest of the country a hundred years ago, Henry Flagler.

“Flagler’s Folly,” as it became called, was the connection south from Jacksonville, then the southernmost rail terminal in the early 1900s, to St. Augustine and West Palm Beach. Afterwards came Miami (then known as Fort Dallas). In 1905, Flagler decided it would be profitable to extend the rail line to Key West to cut a day of shipping time connecting to ships transiting the Panama Canal.

A vision: Connecting cities with trains. Then, the fastest way to connect two points.

Initiative: Because of an illness, Flagler needed to live in a warmer climate. And, as a co-founder of Standard Oil, he had the capacity for a tremendous vision that was ‘out of the world’ ~ at least for his time.

Process: Many of the rail laying processes existed. Laying track over swamps and seven miles of ocean is another story and a major engineering feat.

Technology: Trains were the surest way to send people, produce and other goods.

Some money: Lots of money. $1,200,000,000[4] in today’s dollars.

People called him a fool.

I am glad we live in a time where innovators and investors still inspire, still aspire, still perspire. Imagine the people who gathered to watch the first trains go, and return. Imagine being on the train! Thank you to the people who made the rail lines. Thank you to the folks at Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin.

Changing Planes

Supersonic: It is funny that the reason it is illegal to fly supersonic across the US is because of the sonic boom, not because of flying supersonic. New technologies dissipate the sonic boom. And, of course, when the law passed, ‘supersonic’ and ‘boom’ went together.

Sustainable: Branson flew in a rocket carried by a plane until it reached a high enough altitude. Perfect? No. Combine this with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) being tested and used by 30 airlines around the world.[5] Progress? Yes.

Blue Origin (Bezos’ rocket) flew with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, turning into water vapor as it flew. Perfect? No. It still took electricity to power the systems. Progress. Yes.

Back to the 1970s. People will travel in less time, for less cost, and causing less environmental harm. Concorde, 1969-2003. Fuel for the 2020s. Thank you, United Airlines.

A vision. Initiative. Process. Technology. Some money.

Air taxis. I love Bob Crandall. Huge fan. I met him a few times when I worked at American Airlines. Scared. Made me stand tall. Employees loved him. I imagine some didn’t. He was a game-changer, no doubt. After leaving as CEO of American Airlines, he invested in an air taxi service. Huge concept in the 1990s, but pieces were missing. 

A Vision: Yes, no doubt

Initiative: Yes, 100%

Process: Mostly

Technology: Not ready

Some money: Not enough

Fuel for the 2020s. While the idea may be to leverage small airports, maybe the solution will lead to neighborhood drop-off points. Thank you, American Airlines. Thank you, Virgin Atlantic. Thank you, Bob Crandall. Thank you to the thousands of people who are working on these projects.

Electric Motor Plane,

Electric planes. In 2020, a nine-passenger Cessna eCaravan flew for 28 minutes on batteries.[6] Plenty of people will find plenty of problems. Electric charging stations at airports. Running out of electricity (that’s happened a few times with liquid fuel). But, progress is being made in improving charging speeds, efficiencies in motors, and less weight. Electric planes are happening. 

Thank you, United Airlines. Thank you to the innovators making electric planes real, and the pilots.

In 2015, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg flew around the world on solar power. Without fuel. Hard to fly in clouds and at night. Progress, absolutely. Thank you, Bertrand and André.

“Protection of the environment would become a reality only if it was perceived as economically viable and requiring no financial or behavioral sacrifices. Today, efficient solutions exist that can boost economic growth, while at the same time reducing our impact on the planet.”

Bertrand Piccard

A vision. Yes.

Initiative. Yes.

Process. Yes 

Technology. Yes

Some money. Yes.

Trains. This year, French lawmakers voted to ban short flights instead, having travelers take the train. Makes sense. Most major airports in Europe have train stations within and more in the US are adding train service. And some of these trains already carry airline ‘flight’ numbers as connections.

When I worked for SilverRail, we promoted rail travel as being faster for the traveler, less costly for the company, and better for the environment. City-to-city under four hours always made more sense taking the train.

Thank you, Aaron Gowell. Thank you, Will Phillipson. Thank you, Expedia (for adding rail).

A vision. Initiative. Process. Technology (sometimes, make it yourself). Some money.

Innovation: Divergence, Convergence and Delivery

We innovate in our companies. We use software, processes, and systems from experts to create what is next. We leverage early innovators with current (and even yet-to-be-developed) technologies to create the next platform. Innovation is a process of divergence and convergence. Ideas shared, some make it to a development place while others may not be ready. One day, these not-so-ready ideas will find their place.

A vision. Initiative. Process. Technology. Some money.

The world just got a little smaller.

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