Kangaroo hop

I've been doing a lot of traveling lately. What else is new? London and New York recently, and last month a trip Down Under. That journey got me thinking about airport congestion, which I'll get to in a moment.

My first trip to Australia was back in the early 1980s when I was doing analytical work for Boeing - working with airlines on fleet planning and financial feasibility studies for purchasing new airplanes. In those days I spent a lot of time with TAA (Trans-Australia Airlines) in Melbourne. TAA was folded into Qantas in 1992.

Anyway, over the years I've spent so much time in the region that I developed some lasting friendships. So I like to think of these trips as visits with old friends.

One of my "mates" is still in the airline industry. Another is an industry consultant. And in between catching up with them, I got to talk to media, airline people, investors, and the like in Sydney, Brisbane, and Auckland. I even got to lecture at the University of New South Wales School of Aviation. So I got to talk to aviation management students. A lot of them. We had about 110 turn out. That was fantastic.

In Sydney I briefed about 30 reporters and then fielded a bunch of questions. One of the stories to come out of that briefing focused on the increasing importance of more efficient airplanes in the face of rising fuel costs.

Randy Baseler interviewed for Radio New Zealand photo

Being interviewed for Radio New Zealand.

Later, I flew across the Tasman to New Zealand for a media session in Auckland. And in the midst of a number of interesting questions in both locations I got a lot of comments about the blog! Seems the folks Down Under are enjoying our little journal.

One question that always seems to come up when I'm out talking is: "Don't airplanes have to get bigger because of slot constraints and congestion around airports?"

This came up during my Australia visit because congestion is very much an issue at Sydney Airport. But as I told reporters, congestion is not going to be solved by adding very large airplanes.

Sydney Airport is much like airports in London, or in U.S. cities like Chicago, or LAX, where there are a large number of airplanes of 100 seats or less (like regional jets), and a lot of jets in the 100-150 seat range (small single-aisle jets).

In fact, in Sydney, three quarters of the departures are airplanes below 200 seats. That's where the congestion is. So if you use the logic that "bigger airplanes" solve congestion, it's not going to be solved at the 550-seat level.

You don't take all these small airplanes and make them 550-seaters. These smaller jets are flying to places where you just can't put an A380!

Sydney Airport weekly departures chart

At Sydney Airport, 90% of weekly departures are aircraft with fewer than 300 seats, and 74% are aircraft with fewer than 200 seats.

And if you took all the departures on the 300-seats-and-larger airplanes and put those passengers on 550-seat airplanes, it just wouldn't make much of a dent in airport congestion.

Another thing that some people don't realize is that the more giant-sized airplanes you bring in to an airport like Sydney, the more little airplanes you need to feed them.

One way to address congestion is for airlines to bump up the smaller airplanes about 20% in size (the next size up). That's how you reduce the number of departures significantly.

Once you recognize this, you understand that "bigger airplanes" helping congestion doesn't mean super jumbo jets. It really means moving from 100 or 150 seats up to the next category, say 151-200 seats.

Another way to handle congestion is to not take passengers through an airport they didn't want to go to in the first place. What you want to do is take people point-to-point. That's how you reduce congestion and get people where they want to go at the same time.

Speaking of places you want to go, my first night in Sydney landed me at my favorite pub, the Lord Nelson. It's one of the oldest "hotel" pubs in Sydney. They brew their own beer there, so there's lots of great selection. For me, the Lord Nelson is a place to grab a brew, have some fish and chips, and start tuning my ear to the local Aussie dialect.

By the way, Boeing has taken on an Aussie dialect of its own. Boeing and Australia have a history going back more than 77 years. We've kind of become part of the fabric Down Under, employing about 3,300 people. If you want to find out more, we've added a link to Boeing in Australia.

And in keeping with today's theme, I just want to leave you with this brief commentary from the Melbourne Herald Sun. But you'll definitely have to do your own research to find out what they mean by "spruiking."