Containerized Passenger Flights

November 26, 2014 — Leave a comment


Passenger Airplane Container System [US Patent 64944404]

Tomorrow is US Thanksgiving, which is of course a major travel period for Americans. My news stream inevitably fills up with travel stories and, with a snow storm invading the northeast, of non-travel travel stories too.

One story that popped up is this one: Passengers Boarding Planes: We’re Doing It Wrong. If it sounds familiar, it is. It’s a story that’s been recycled numerous times, bemoaning the sorry disarray of aircraft boarding at airports. All those operations people in aviation and still no improvement – despite things like the smart Steffen Method – in how to efficiently and calmly board a couple hundred people in a tin can; something done thousands of times each day.

Yesterday I had the pleasure to catch Malcolm Gladwell speak about his most recent book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits & the Art of Battling Giants. He recounted the tale of Scot trucking magnate Malcolm McLean’s innovative push for containerized intermodal shipping, something that not only revolutionized the transportation business end-to-end but which can also be placed in the elite class of all-time most significant inventions.

Which got me wondering: why not apply the same dynamic to passenger flights and aircraft turnarounds? Obviously it wouldn’t be easy to do – it would require custom aircraft, re-designed airport gates, and some imagination from the airline industry – but neither was McLean’s shepherding of new sea vessels, stronger docks, entirely new heavy-lift cranes, and port turnarounds counted in hours not days or weeks. Militaries and courier companies have aviation examples to draw from too.

Comfortably pre-board and pre-pack the “cargo” and swap in the loaded container while the plane refuels and brings in a new crew. It seems like one of those rare opportunities to dramatically leapfrog the competition and disrupt an industry through efficiency, customer satisfaction, and differentiation – simultaneously.

I googled the idea and of course it exists – at least on this site called Innopedia (“The wiki for ideas in Aeronautics and Air Transport”): Multi-modal passenger containers. It’s a revolutionary idea just waiting for someone brave enough to realize it.

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