mxaxai
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Posts: 448
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Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Fri May 11, 2018 4:33 pm

Before you say "NO!", please give it a thought.

Many employees commute each day by bike, car, bus or train. Very few people commute by plane. I would argue that this can change by providing the right equipment:

One would need a plane. Perhaps around 50 seats (like a bus) but perhaps larger, since trains often carry far more people than aircraft. It would have to be very quiet to prevent complaints by residents since you'd want it to take off and land as close as possible to the passenger's final destination. It would need STOL capabilities and steep approach/departure paths since you should disturb the existing infrastructure as little as possible. Turnarounds would have to be fast, maybe in the range of 10 minutes between touchdown and take-off. Instead of the long final approaches found on current airliners, you'd want to make the approach as short as possible to avoid long detours. Give it a single pilot and perhaps some sort of backup but we can discuss that. Boarding and deboarding should happen through as many doors as possible, minimum front and rear. Hybrid and/or electric propulsion could be an option to reduce fuel burn and noise sufficiently.

No special service (perhaps a drinks & sandwiches machine or a single FA), no seat assignments, no checked luggage, no waiting for delayed passengers, no endless boarding procedure, no huge airports with shopping malls and fancy waiting areas, no complicated check-in procedures.

These new small airpots are integrated into the local public transport system, time between the bus/rail interchange and the plane is 15 min max. The plane stops, people get off, maybe refuel for a few minutes and look for stuff left behind, people get on, and off you go. Flight block time is 15 minutes to 1 hour. Longer trips could be multiple hops. Cost around $20 - $150 a trip or $300 - $600 a month for your daily commute (including transport to & from the airport).


Like a bus or train.


Why?

Many people commute. Actually, almost every employee does. The acceptable distance is determined by the time, not by the distance. Having a system like this could
  • support rural areas and smaller cities,
  • relieve pressure on land-based transportation, especially from points on one side of a metropolis to the other, traffic that would needlessly clog the inner cities,
  • reduce the demand for housing in large towns,
  • reduce the time wasted during the commute,
  • reduce the time wasted at airports,
  • give people more job opportunities, especially for families who may not want to move or where spouses work in different towns,
  • improve connectivity between businesses,
  • allow smaller companies and communities to benefit more from globalisation,
  • replace heavy rail and HSR where the geography is not suitable (e. g. mountains, islands),
  • provide fast and affordable links to larger airports & long-haul flights, allowing large airports to be built further away from dense population,
  • utilise existing general aviation airfields and regional airports better,
  • provide fast connections to city centres and their businesses (think of LCY).
Overall, it should improve both the economy and our society.


All we need is a sufficiently capable plane, politics that make use of it (by building the airports and surrounding infrastructure), and acceptance by the people (which probably wouldn't come immediately since change tends to take some time).

Perhaps like this, or perhaps not. Though you probably would place your airport on the ground level and the rail underground:
Image
Sure, there are many challenges. Legal, technical, and in society. But I believe they could be overcome if one was determined to accomplish it.
 
yonikasz
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Fri May 11, 2018 8:05 pm

Hmm. I like the idea. I think it is possible in the long term. I was thinking about that myself. If you look at MCI in Kansas City it was actually built that way. The distance from the door to the gate is very very short. So short that there is barely any room for TSA screening. If you were able to speed up screening signifantly I think it would be a viable idea. I am sure many have thought of ideas like this but having to get there an hour or two hours prior for security really hampers it.

I know there are many on the hour routes in the East Coast. I was in BOS yesterday and I saw where the US Airways shuttles used to leave from. I saw them put a sign that said American Airlines Shuttle. There is also Delta shuttle in that area too. I believe these run between BOS, LGA, and DCA. EWR is too far for an NYC operation IMHO, but maybe they could make it work. Maybe if they could use their own terminals like Delta does at LGA it could work.

The problem is just like cars, big cities get very congested so the fastest mode of transportation in general might not work in a big city. For example biking is often faster than driving in a big city. On the same token in a congested region, like the east coast, even though trains are slower, it might be easier to use them than have planes go in and out of congested airports. I know that there is Amtrak Acela in the East Coast region. I have also heard of Fung Wah Bus service. They were an extremely low cost curbside bus service between NYC and Boston. Sometimes fares were as low as $10. They eventually were shut down by the DOT. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fung_Wah_ ... sportation
 
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TWA772LR
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Fri May 11, 2018 8:27 pm

Why not just use a large helicopter like a Chinook? You wouldnt need large tracts of land for a runway nor find ATPL-licensed pilots. Just a cement slab and large-ish bus shelter.
You know all is right is the world when the only thing people worry about is if the president had sex with a pornstar.


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Moose135
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Fri May 11, 2018 9:17 pm

You're not the only one thinking about it...
https://www.airspacemag.com/flight-toda ... -39595665/
KC-135 - Passing gas and taking names!
 
kalvado
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 12:03 am

Try to estimate how much airframe acquisition cost would contribute towards the fare (hint - ERJ is about $15M, bus is about $400K), how much energy (fuel) would cost and guess how much insurance would be for a vehicle which can literally fall out of the sky at any second.
 
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seat55a
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 2:35 am

Sounds like 1950s futurism.

There are reasons we don't live in the City of Tomorrow. Not a good enough cost/benefit ratio or physical risk/benefit ratio. Also the western countries, at least, are a bit over clearing large areas of heritage city for even "small" new transport infrastructure. I guess you could build this in Detroit but only because there's nobody there to use it.
 
mxaxai
Topic Author
Posts: 448
Joined: Sat Jun 18, 2016 7:29 am

Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 4:15 am

yonikasz wrote:
Hmm. I like the idea. I think it is possible in the long term. I was thinking about that myself. If you look at MCI in Kansas City it was actually built that way. The distance from the door to the gate is very very short. So short that there is barely any room for TSA screening. If you were able to speed up screening signifantly I think it would be a viable idea. I am sure many have thought of ideas like this but having to get there an hour or two hours prior for security really hampers it.

I know there are many on the hour routes in the East Coast. I was in BOS yesterday and I saw where the US Airways shuttles used to leave from. I saw them put a sign that said American Airlines Shuttle. There is also Delta shuttle in that area too. I believe these run between BOS, LGA, and DCA. EWR is too far for an NYC operation IMHO, but maybe they could make it work. Maybe if they could use their own terminals like Delta does at LGA it could work.

BOS, LGA and DCA have the benefit of being fairly close to the respective city centres. If you closed DCA and expected people to do it from IAD, demand would drop. Which is why I expect other cities to benefit in a similar manner from having easily reachable airports.

seat55a wrote:
Sounds like 1950s futurism.

There are reasons we don't live in the City of Tomorrow. Not a good enough cost/benefit ratio or physical risk/benefit ratio. Also the western countries, at least, are a bit over clearing large areas of heritage city for even "small" new transport infrastructure. I guess you could build this in Detroit but only because there's nobody there to use it.

In the 1950s jets were deafening, used more than twice as much fuel as today, and had a very poor runway performance. Props were just as loud and even more uncomfortable. And the world was hardly as interconnected as it is today.

I'm not really suggesting it as a means to travel within a city but rather between nearby cities, e. g. Pittsburgh - Cleveland or Glasgow - Edinburgh, 25 to 200 miles. It can't really compete with ground transport on shorter routes. And while I agree that there probably would be massive opposition against anything that somehow resembles an airport, cities do commonly have ample space. Obviously not between skyscrapers or in historic city centres but often there are things like urban highways, large train stations and railway tracks, parking lots, shopping malls, etc. you could put underground or stack a bit more. If you only need a cleared area of, say, 30 x 500 m, you'd probably be able to find something within 10 - 20 minutes of any city centre. Many of the large cities are also built near the coast, lakes or large rivers. It is much easier to reclaim a small strip like that than to built a completely new international airport (e. g. KIX).

I would, however, expect it to be more useful in semi-rural areas, near towns of maybe 50k - 200k inhabitants (plus their surrounding suburbs) where you can reach the open countryside within 5 - 20 minutes from any point. These places also often have existing general aviation airfields that could be repurposed. It wouldn't be a replacement for the subway but augment it. It rather replaces or adds to HSR networks and long-distance buses (which nobody uses today to commute daily because their speed is so low, but just as an idea which routes you might consider).
Though I guess it might not be a solution for every city worldwide.

I disagree with the poor risk/benefit ratio. It's likely still safer than any personal vehicle. Public perception could be an issue.

kalvado wrote:
Try to estimate how much airframe acquisition cost would contribute towards the fare (hint - ERJ is about $15M, bus is about $400K), how much energy (fuel) would cost and guess how much insurance would be for a vehicle which can literally fall out of the sky at any second.

There are about 80,000 buses in Germany alone. Only some 1200 ERJ have been delivered worldwide. Obviously the production and development process is different for these amounts. And while profitability - due to poor efficiency and high initial cost - is probably one reason for that difference, the lack of infrastructure certainly contributes to it. If you built aircraft not by the thousands but by the tens of thousands, the price could drop to perhaps 10 - 20 % of what it is today. Think of the difference between a Rolls-Royce and a Toyota.

Energy is less of an issue than what you might expect. Modern aircraft use 2 to 3 liters per 100 ASK. For a flight of 200 km that equals a fuel cost of $1.50 to $2.

Employee costs could be much lower. An airport needs about 1000 people per million passengers annually and that's without the airline's operations. The entire german railway (DB) serves 13 times more passengers per employee. Commuter style operations are likely even more efficient (since DB does HSR and freight too).


All you need is to do away with the bloated operations we have today. An airport is a place I want to be for as short as possible, not for as long as possible.

TWA772LR wrote:
Why not just use a large helicopter like a Chinook? You wouldnt need large tracts of land for a runway nor find ATPL-licensed pilots. Just a cement slab and large-ish bus shelter.

Moose135 wrote:
You're not the only one thinking about it...
https://www.airspacemag.com/flight-toda ... -39595665/


VTOL systems tend to be significantly less efficient and much more complex than fixed wing aircraft. It could work with electric / hybrid multicopters but their speed and range is very limited. On a cross-country flight they aren't much faster than cars. Tilt-rotors are even more of a nightmare, at least as long as each rotor is safety critical and has a combustion engine attached to it. Which is why I rather see new STOL designs.
 
FlyHappy
Posts: 431
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 6:11 am

No.
sorry, but no.

Air travel is simply magnitudes more complex to conduct safely than ground travel. That means it requires more people, more labor, more cost, per passenger flight minute/mile. Fundamentally far more costly than other commuting methods.

The physics of this will not change. Cheating gravity to move ourselves further and more quickly means increasing risk; lowering that risk means holding aviation to a higher standard than ground travel. Since we won't accept "avoidable" accidents as a price of convenient and cheap "bus like" flight, your proposal is unrealistic. (I say this fully recognizing that we accept "avoidable" ground accidents, from bicycling to trains)
 
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DocLightning
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 12:32 pm

mxaxai wrote:
In the 1950s jets were deafening, used more than twice as much fuel as today, and had a very poor runway performance. Props were just as loud and even more uncomfortable. And the world was hardly as interconnected as it is today.


Jets are no longer "deafening," but they're still pretty loud if you're near one. A couple of years ago, my husband and I rented a little bungalow in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Every morning, at 6AM, the planes would take off. These were 737s and A320s and even the Japan Air 787. Even with very good earplugs in and a white noise generator in our house, it was enough to wake me up.

We had to switch vacation rentals because I refuse to be woken up at 0600 every morning on vacation.

Bottom line, they're still too loud for operation within a city where people live and work.
-Doc Lightning-

"The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars."
-Carl Sagan
 
kalvado
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Joined: Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:29 am

Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 1:52 pm

mxaxai wrote:
kalvado wrote:
Try to estimate how much airframe acquisition cost would contribute towards the fare (hint - ERJ is about $15M, bus is about $400K), how much energy (fuel) would cost and guess how much insurance would be for a vehicle which can literally fall out of the sky at any second.

There are about 80,000 buses in Germany alone. Only some 1200 ERJ have been delivered worldwide. Obviously the production and development process is different for these amounts. And while profitability - due to poor efficiency and high initial cost - is probably one reason for that difference, the lack of infrastructure certainly contributes to it. If you built aircraft not by the thousands but by the tens of thousands, the price could drop to perhaps 10 - 20 % of what it is today. Think of the difference between a Rolls-Royce and a Toyota.

Energy is less of an issue than what you might expect. Modern aircraft use 2 to 3 liters per 100 ASK. For a flight of 200 km that equals a fuel cost of $1.50 to $2.

Employee costs could be much lower. An airport needs about 1000 people per million passengers annually and that's without the airline's operations. The entire german railway (DB) serves 13 times more passengers per employee. Commuter style operations are likely even more efficient (since DB does HSR and freight too).


All you need is to do away with the bloated operations we have today. An airport is a place I want to be for as short as possible, not for as long as possible..

Please notice I didn't even mention personel cost. You may cut those - although you never mentioned if you want a ATPL grade pilot in cockpit or a minimally trained driver; any FAs in a cabin or not - those are potential cost saving of a ~$10 dollars per passenger trip. Also how are you going to work with crash PR. Currently there is about 1 in 4 million chance of airliner crash for top-of-the-list airlines. Your wide-deployed flying buses would naturally have a bit higher rate, and more of them would be flying. Maybe a daily crash would be normal, after all that is close to total road fatality count we get in US. You will have a bit higher cost per crash as something below can easily be affected. Not daily 9-11, but on the same page. So.. Insurance cost?

Equipment cost wise, very expensive 787 program resulted in pre-production cost of $10-20M per aircraft, or 5-10% of sales price. I don't expect ERJ to have way worse ratio. On the other hand, flying machines are way more sensitive to weight compared to ground equipment - and weight much more, leaving less room for payload. 737 weights at least 4x as much as bus while carrying 2x as many people - and that weight is aluminum and titanium instead of plain steel. Technology is also a bit more complex. It is hard to compare honing of cylinder with directional crystallization of single crystal superalloy, for example. All that also means more fragile flying equipment and more costly maintenance.
You give a nice estimate of fuel cost - but you really want to compare that with bus figures, which will be something like 10x better. Or, if you will, available seat-mile and butt-in-a-seat mile are two different animals, especially for commute operation - where you quickly get 20-30% load factor due to directionality of commute and requirement of off-hours runs.
 
SAAFNAV
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 2:58 pm

TWA772LR wrote:
Why not just use a large helicopter like a Chinook? You wouldnt need large tracts of land for a runway nor find ATPL-licensed pilots. Just a cement slab and large-ish bus shelter.


Maybe someone in the States can confirm this, but if you plan to operate an airline with helicopters, the pilots will still need to have a helicopter ATPL.
L-382 Loadmaster; ex C-130B Navigator
 
bohica
Posts: 2392
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 3:37 pm

Can you imagine your flight being operated by:

NYC MTA?
Washington Metro?
Chicago CTA?
S.F. MUNI?
etc....

:faint:
 
kalvado
Posts: 812
Joined: Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:29 am

Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 4:00 pm

SAAFNAV wrote:
TWA772LR wrote:
Why not just use a large helicopter like a Chinook? You wouldnt need large tracts of land for a runway nor find ATPL-licensed pilots. Just a cement slab and large-ish bus shelter.


Maybe someone in the States can confirm this, but if you plan to operate an airline with helicopters, the pilots will still need to have a helicopter ATPL.

§ 135.243 Pilot in command qualifications.
(a) No certificate holder may use a person, nor may any person serve, as pilot in command in passenger-carrying operations -
[...]
(2) Of a helicopter in a scheduled interstate air transportation operation by an air carrier within the 48 contiguous states unless that person holds an airline transport pilot certificate, appropriate type ratings, and an instrument rating.

Not sure if that gives any freedom for an INTRAstate operation
 
mxaxai
Topic Author
Posts: 448
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 4:02 pm

kalvado wrote:
mxaxai wrote:
kalvado wrote:
Try to estimate how much airframe acquisition cost would contribute towards the fare (hint - ERJ is about $15M, bus is about $400K), how much energy (fuel) would cost and guess how much insurance would be for a vehicle which can literally fall out of the sky at any second.

There are about 80,000 buses in Germany alone. Only some 1200 ERJ have been delivered worldwide. Obviously the production and development process is different for these amounts. And while profitability - due to poor efficiency and high initial cost - is probably one reason for that difference, the lack of infrastructure certainly contributes to it. If you built aircraft not by the thousands but by the tens of thousands, the price could drop to perhaps 10 - 20 % of what it is today. Think of the difference between a Rolls-Royce and a Toyota.

Energy is less of an issue than what you might expect. Modern aircraft use 2 to 3 liters per 100 ASK. For a flight of 200 km that equals a fuel cost of $1.50 to $2.

Employee costs could be much lower. An airport needs about 1000 people per million passengers annually and that's without the airline's operations. The entire german railway (DB) serves 13 times more passengers per employee. Commuter style operations are likely even more efficient (since DB does HSR and freight too).


All you need is to do away with the bloated operations we have today. An airport is a place I want to be for as short as possible, not for as long as possible..

Please notice I didn't even mention personel cost. You may cut those - although you never mentioned if you want a ATPL grade pilot in cockpit or a minimally trained driver; any FAs in a cabin or not - those are potential cost saving of a ~$10 dollars per passenger trip. Also how are you going to work with crash PR. Currently there is about 1 in 4 million chance of airliner crash for top-of-the-list airlines. Your wide-deployed flying buses would naturally have a bit higher rate, and more of them would be flying. Maybe a daily crash would be normal, after all that is close to total road fatality count we get in US. You will have a bit higher cost per crash as something below can easily be affected. Not daily 9-11, but on the same page. So.. Insurance cost?

Equipment cost wise, very expensive 787 program resulted in pre-production cost of $10-20M per aircraft, or 5-10% of sales price. I don't expect ERJ to have way worse ratio. On the other hand, flying machines are way more sensitive to weight compared to ground equipment - and weight much more, leaving less room for payload. 737 weights at least 4x as much as bus while carrying 2x as many people - and that weight is aluminum and titanium instead of plain steel. Technology is also a bit more complex. It is hard to compare honing of cylinder with directional crystallization of single crystal superalloy, for example. All that also means more fragile flying equipment and more costly maintenance.
You give a nice estimate of fuel cost - but you really want to compare that with bus figures, which will be something like 10x better. Or, if you will, available seat-mile and butt-in-a-seat mile are two different animals, especially for commute operation - where you quickly get 20-30% load factor due to directionality of commute and requirement of off-hours runs.


Note that I didn't say that absolute development cost was going to shrink. But if you spread it over 10, or even 100 times as many aircraft built you'll only look at 0.05% - 1% of the sales price coming from development costs. Which is why it is so important for new models to produce as many as possible and be as versatile as possible. We only started looking at production rates of 70 narrobodies per month over the past 10 years. IMO, even if it doesn't match this proposal, the next all-new narrowbody by Airbus or Boeing will be much more optimized for manufacturing and assembly, something neither the 737 nor the A320 FAL can easily implement considering their age. Today's aircraft still need much manual work, whereas buses and cars are mass produced on highly automated lines. There's a reason why the automobile only became popular after Ford pioneered mass production.

Safety wouldn't be quite an objective issue but you are correct that the public perception is difficult to change. 50 crashes with one fatality just seem way less scary than one crash with 50 fatalities. Though, the public is quick to forget, especially if it happens far away. How many of the airliner crashes in 2017 would anybody on the street recall?

Image

And while we like to think of aviation having the highest standards, components for vehicles are designed and tested for far more punishment because (a) their use is less predictable and (b) there is no comparable preventative maintenance operation. Modern combustion engines and gears are very high precision components. I think saying that aviation parts need to cost more by default is wrong. Though the papertrail created to ensure traceability of everything does add some work and costs not seen in other industries.

I agree that buses are much more efficient but bus tickets often start at less than $1. I think something around $10 minimum is more realistic for an "air-bus". But that is still affordable for many people. A half-hour commute by car will cost you about 1 to 2 l of fuel - often with a high tax -, insurance, maintenance and car ownership costs, sometimes toll. You're looking at around $5 - $15 per trip for using your own car.
 
yonikasz
Posts: 17
Joined: Tue Nov 26, 2013 6:47 pm

Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 5:41 pm

You also got to think about taxi times. ORD's 20+ minute taxi times because they have runways miles from the gate makes the flight's a lot longer.
 
doug_or
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sat May 12, 2018 8:14 pm

When looking at costs, remember you're almost certainly going to have sub 30% load factors in a commuter type operation, so you need to multiply the cost per seat by at least 3 to get the cost per enplaned passenger. Also note that those sub $1 bus fares are probably steeply subsidized.

I don't have any idea where you're getting the idea that the costs of production could be lowered by 90%. That is fantasy. Compare the costs associated with high production aircraft (737/A320), and low production aircraft and you don't see anything close to that.

Single pilot or no FA ops would require huge exemptions in most jurisdictions for operations with 20+ seats, and I don't know if that would be practical anyway. Having two people up front would be very valuable for the fast paced operation you're proposing and having a FA in the back to make sure people are wearing their seatbelt and not doing anything stupid would be a good idea on such an easily accessible air service.

Between the ability to get the airfields built, silence/ignore nearby residence, and afford such a boondoggle the only place I could really see this working is some kind of oil-rich cuilt of personality Central-Asian kleptocracy. It wouldn't be enough to finance a clean sheet design, but some of the pressurized small twins I've seen proposed or built might work for that.
When in doubt, one B pump off
 
RJMAZ
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Sun May 13, 2018 12:54 am

This will happen in 50 years time with full electric VTOL vehicles.

We already have electric drones. Once battery density increases by 5 times you could simply scale up the design to fit passengers. You would want a tilt wing design with multiple electric motors so it can have 500+km/h cruising speeds.

Electric engines reduces noise.
VTOL allows more points of takeoff so you reduce the transit time to and from the aircraft. This will offset the point to point time so the actual flying speed can be slower.

You could have smaller 300km/h aircraft doing trips under 300km and larger 600km/h aircraft doing trips up to 1000km.
 
Bostrom
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Mon May 14, 2018 8:31 pm

mxaxai wrote:
I'm not really suggesting it as a means to travel within a city but rather between nearby cities, e. g. Pittsburgh - Cleveland or Glasgow - Edinburgh, 25 to 200 miles.


Edinburgh-Glasgow is around 65 km, there is no way some kind of hypothetical regional aircraft can compete with trains on that route.
 
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tjwgrr
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Re: Could regional aircraft be more like buses?

Mon May 14, 2018 8:33 pm

Like this?

Image
Direct KNOBS, maintain 2700' until established on the localizer, cleared ILS runway 26 left approach.

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