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The future of aviation: prominent leaders weigh in

Jan. 2, 2014, New York, N.Y. - Millions of people step aboard airplanes each day, complaining about the lack of legroom and overhead space but almost taking for granted that they can travel thousands of miles in just a few hours.


January 2, 2014
By The Associated Press

Wednesday marks the 100th anniversary of the first commercial flight:
a 23-minute hop across Florida's Tampa Bay. The St. Petersburg-Tampa
Airboat Line was subsidized by St. Petersburg officials who wanted more
winter tourists in their city. The alternative: an 11-hour train ride
from Tampa.

 

Pilot Tony Jannus had room for just one passenger, who
sat next to him in the open cockpit.

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Three months later — when tourism
season ended — so did the subsidy. The airline had carried 1,204
passengers but would never fly again.

 

With the anniversary in
mind, The Associated Press reached out to today's aviation leaders to
see what they are predicting for the future of flying. Answers have been
edited for length and clarity.


IN FIVE YEARS:

 


Richard Anderson, CEO Delta Air Lines: "Just over a decade ago airlines
seemed to be buying every 50-seat aircraft they could get their hands
on. But the real utility of those small jets has come and gone and in
the next five years we'll see their numbers in the U.S. continue to
dwindle."

 

— Gary Kelly, CEO Southwest Airlines: "We'll have fewer airlines, but they will be bigger, stronger and healthier."

 


Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr., CEO Allegiant Travel Co.: "The next five
years will be all about increasing automation and decreasing labor cost.
The industry is already implementing mobile boarding passes, bag drops,
even self-boarding. These processes will become more prevalent and
significantly reduce the number of employees the customer needs to
interact with."


IN 25 YEARS:

 

— David Barger, CEO
JetBlue Airways: "The freedom to travel between any two points in the
world will be commonplace. There will be billions of travelers every
year flying on new aircraft that will be environmentally friendly; in
fact, they will be making zero-carbon travel maybe even a reality."

 


Mark Dunkerley, CEO Hawaiian Airlines: "Many of today's consumers will
be priced out of the air: a sad legacy to 30 years of massive progress
in democratizing air travel. Failure to invest in aviation
infrastructure and the insatiable appetite for regulation will not be
offset by relatively modest further improvements in aircraft
efficiency."

 

— James Hogan, CEO Etihad Airways: "A new generation
of airlines, who have the vision and willingness to be different, will
succeed in cutting costs, improving productivity and finding affordable
ways of accessing new markets. The emerging markets — the Middle East,
Africa, Southeast Asia — will become established markets and Abu Dhabi
will be one of the uniting global hubs."

 

— Sir Richard Branson,
president Virgin Atlantic Airways: "I have no doubt that during my
lifetime we will be able to fly from London to Sydney in under two
hours, with minimal environmental impact. The awe-inspiring views of our
beautiful planet below and zero-gravity passenger fun will bring a
whole new meaning to in-flight entertainment."

 

— Jeff Smisek, CEO
United Airlines: "The airframe and engine manufacturers continue to
develop aircraft that are more fuel-efficient, have lower maintenance
costs and have greater range and utility. Longer term, I believe
manufacturers will explore engine and airframe technology that could
significantly reduce travel times, but advances in this area would have
to be safe and economical to make a real impact on our industry."


IN 100 YEARS:

 


David Siegel, CEO Frontier Airlines: "The first flight was just 18
miles long, but now look how far we can go. Perhaps in the future,
experts will be designing futuristic propulsion systems. We could see
innovations in aircraft design, local community-based air transport with
smaller, higher efficiency aircraft, and maybe even pilotless
commercial aircraft."

 

— Doug Parker, CEO American Airlines: "I am
quite certain that Tony Jannus never could have imagined the size and
importance of commercial aviation today, or the impact it had on
changing our world. Similarly, I cannot imagine what commercial aviation
will look like in 2114. I imagine whatever state it is, though, it will
be extremely important and its continued development will be a key part
of the story that built that world."

 

— Ben Baldanza, CEO Spirit
Airlines: "Google's 'put me there' technology implemented into its maps
software renders all airlines obsolete."