字幕列表 影片播放 列印英文字幕 This video was made possible by Skillshare. Learn new skills for free for two months by being one of the first 1,000 to join at http://skl.sh/wendover10. The term “helicopter airline” is one that most are probably not familiar with. Simply, it's an airline, transporting passengers or cargo, that uses helicopters. Of course, not all helicopter companies are truly airlines, since many, if not most, civilian applications of helicopters do not involve transport—the people or things inside often land right back where they took off. Helicopter airlines have been around almost as long as helicopters themselves, but they certainly are not widespread. There was, however, a time when helicopters were believed to be the future of short-haul passenger transport, so what happened? The opportunity for helicopter airlines emerged around the 1950's. When passenger aviation first began, cities' first airports were located rather close to the cities themselves, as they just didn't need as much space. Around the mid-century, New York's primary airport was LaGuardia, Chicago's was Midway, DC's was National, Paris' was Le Bourget, and Tokyo's was Haneda—all airports fairly close to their city centers. These airports were relatively small and generally had short runways, but that wasn't a problem because passenger demand was small and airplanes were too. After all, the smaller the airplane, the shorter the runway needed, and vice versa. These small airports even worked for the long-haul flights of the time since, in general, before the 1950s, these were done on relatively small airplanes that would make multiple stops on longer journeys. However, with the introduction of the de Havilland Comet in the 1950s, and other passenger jet aircraft soon after, airplanes were growing larger, range was increasing, and passenger demand rose too. That meant that all the small airports of the past wouldn't cut it and so, cities looked to build larger airports more suited for the jet age. New York's primary airport shifted from LaGuardia to JFK, Chicago's to O'Hare, DC's to Dulles, Paris' to Orly, and Tokyo's to Narita. Each of these larger airports were further from their city centers, though, as that was where there was space. In many cases, the smaller, closer airports remained in operation for domestic or regional flights, but in other cases they closed down. That's how we got to the reality today where many cities' airports are an hour's trip from the city center. Of course, the impact of this distancing varied depending on the type of flights passengers were taking. For example, with a seven-hour flight from New York to London, the additional 45 or so minutes it would take to get from Manhattan to JFK, over LaGuardia, only extends overall travel time by about 7.5%. However, on the one-hour flight from New York to DC, this would extend travel time by nearly 20%. This trend of distancing of airports from their cities had little impact on long-haul flights, but it had a huge effect on short-haul flights meaning that planes were now less competitive compared to cars or trains. Nowadays, via JFK, it takes just 30 minutes more to travel from Manhattan to downtown Charlotte than from Manhattan to downtown DC, even though Charlotte is more than twice as far. There are always diminishing marginal returns to air travel's efficiency as distance decreases, but moving airports further from cities increased this to the point that, below a couple hundred miles of distance, airplanes are not the fastest means of travel. Helicopter airlines were supposed to solve that. It was quite the niche business model concept, but the 1950's, 60's, and 70's saw a small wave of these particularly in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. SFO airlines, for example, operated an extensive network around the bay area serving San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco Airport, Oakland Airport, downtown Oakland, downtown San Francisco, Marin City, Berkley, and Concord. SFO Airlines' fares were quite reasonable—to go from Berkley to SFO cost just $9 which, inflation adjusted, is the equivalent of $75 today. With a flight time of 10 minutes and prices comparable to a taxi, the choice for the consumer was easy. This route network was primarily intracity, all flights were within the same metro area, but the hypothetical next phase of this business model's expansion was for intercity flights. The idea was that helicopters could replace or augment short-haul flights as a quick way to get between city centers. From New York's Downtown Manhattan Heliport, which is just a ten minute walk from the New York Stock Exchange, one could run regular passenger flights reaching Philadelphia in 30 minutes, Baltimore in 60 minutes, and DC in 70. From Wall Street, the fastest one could reasonably travel door to door to DC in a car, train, or plane would be about four hours. With a passenger helicopter leaving steps away, that would be cut down to two. So, helicopters offered the possibility of intracity travel for the same price as taxis, and intercity travel in half the time—with so much promise and potential, what went wrong? Well, it turns out that it wasn't so much that anything major went wrong, but rather that, when they started, a lot of things went right. Most specifically, the helicopter industry in the US was supported by significant federal subsidies. Up until 1965, the federal government pumped almost half a billion dollars, inflation adjusted, into passenger helicopter service in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. This made it relatively easy for these companies to break even, but then, in 1965, the subsidies stopped coming. It was then all and exclusively up to the helicopter airlines themselves to turn a profit, and that's where the problems started. Helicopters are tremendously expensive. A Bell 206, for example—one of the most common passenger helicopters—costs about $600 per flight hour to operate in terms of fuel, maintenance, and other variable costs. On top of that, there's the cost to buy it, millions of dollars, the cost of the pilot, hundreds of dollars per hour, the landing fees, up to hundreds of dollars per flight, and the cost to run the company managing the helicopter. This all means that a helicopter like this will cost in the thousands of dollars per hour to operate, but it can only seat between four and seven people. That math is simple. Helicopter companies rely on a steady stream of people who value an hour saved in the many hundreds of dollars. That market certainly exists, but at least in the 70s and 80s, it proved too small to keep helicopter airlines afloat without subsidies, especially after a spate of high-profile accidents highlighted the increased danger in comparison to airplanes and drove passengers away. And so, one by one, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York's major helicopter airlines each failed. What followed was the dark ages of passenger helicopter airlines. Market forces whittled these down to just the strongest in the few markets that could feasibly support scheduled passenger helicopter service. Those certainly do exist, but there are not many of them. For example, there has long existed a passenger helicopter airline operating between the financial hub of Hong Kong and the gambling hub of Macau. While the cities are only 40 miles or 65 kilometers apart, they sit on opposite sides of the Pearl River estuary. The primary means of transportation between the two is therefore an hour-long ferry, however, for wealthier individuals, of which there are plenty in both Hong Kong and Macau, this helicopter shuttle connects the two cities in 15 minutes for about $550. A somewhat similar service exists between the country of Monaco and its closest airport in Nice, France—turning a 45 or 60 minute drive into a 7 minute, $140 flight—and then there are a few other less notable examples of scheduled passenger helicopter airlines, including a couple of subsidized services to isolated places without runways, but for the most part, few helicopter airlines survived through the turn of the century. These dark ages continued until around 2010. It was at that time when there started a tiny but noticeable renaissance of the business model. One of the early innovators in this resurgence was Blade, which grew first by offering flights from Manhattan to New York's airports. Other companies soon followed, including Airbus and Uber, to set up similar services all around the world. Airbus' effort later closed down, but both Blade and Uber's services have now been operating for a number of years. What's notable about Blade in particular is that they have partially fulfilled the vision that helicopter airlines' innovators imagined decades ago, but mostly not with helicopters. They operate flights that travel outside the New York metro area directly from Manhattan, rather than from LaGuardia, Newark, or JFK, but these are on seaplanes, rather than helicopters. Leaving from the East River, these reach the Hamptons in 40 minutes or Nantucket in 70 minutes—both popular getaway spots for wealthy New Yorkers. Prices are steep, at $800 to the Hamptons and $1,100 to Nantucket, but this service acts as some evidence that some markets can support more expensive service from city centers. The expansion of such services seemed imminent. Cape Air, after years of trying, was granted government approval in early 2020 for a one-year trial period of regularly-scheduled passenger seaplane flights between downtown Boston and downtown New York. With travel times of an hour and fares around $400, these flights would target a customer segment much closer to mass-market, but at the time of writing, the first of these flights have yet to be scheduled and the service seemingly might have become a victim of the pandemic-induced travel downturn. Seaplanes could be a short-term solution for interurban air travel bypassing airports, but longer term, it's clear that the future involves tiltrotor vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. These aircraft take off like a helicopter, then tilt their propellers 90 degrees to fly like an airplane. This allows them to take off without a runway, but achieve speeds and efficiencies far greater than most helicopters. Currently, no such aircraft is in non-military passenger service, but plenty are in development. Uber, for example, has plans to launch air taxi service using such aircraft—initially in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne. It still has huge amounts of regulatory and technological challenges to surpass before this is possible, but the future of short-haul premium air travel seemingly might not involve airports. Uber's plans involve constructing small “skyports,” as they call them, around cities, and these could be as simple as a repurposed parking garage roof. It's tough to imagine a near-future where the masses are flying from city center to city center as there's just a natural limit to scale. The mass-market solution for faster intercity travel is clearly high-speed rail, but the barrier to entry for private companies in this is enormous considering the infrastructure requirements. The beauty of vertical take off and landing aircraft is the lack of infrastructure needs, but that does mean operational costs are much higher. Costs don't matter as much, though, because such services wouldn't really be competing against commercial airlines or trains, at least at first. Rather, they'd be competing against the private aviation market since, for business travelers, they could offer an overall travel time comparable or better than private jets. The potential market is quite premium, but penetrating a small, yet highly lucrative market is enough to make expensive city center to city center service worth pursuing for certain companies. Whether such a concept will truly be an aspect of the near-future is yet to be seen, but if it is, it could help solve the paradoxical inefficiency of short-haul air travel. 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