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2001 Speeches
Phil Condit portrait

Phil Condit

Chairman and CEO

The Boeing Company

"Civil Aviation: A Turning Point"

Wings Club

New York

December 19, 2001

It's both an honor and a lot of fun to be at the Wings Club, and so I thank Dan McKinnon for inviting me.

I gave a speech here December 12, 1990, and thought about giving that same talk again -- "Civil Aviation: What a Year!" -- to see if anyone would remember, but decided not to do that! But let me start with the same opening, word for word:

"It's certainly been an eventful year for commercial aviation. Five topics stand out -- growth, congestion, safety, consolidation, and the ability to compete. Initially, I had considered including some shorter-term issues -- recession, for example, and the price of fuel, and the threat of war in the Middle East. Those are very valid subjects, of course, but I decided that -- serious as they are -- they are short-term crises, while ours is an industry of long-term perspective. I will only say that I hope all three issues -- fuel costs, war, and recession -- become non-issues early next year."

I am not sure that I did a good job on that speech opening when I said that fuel costs, Middle East war, and recession were short-term issues. Clearly, we still face the same challenges in spite of a very changed world. Today high-bandwidth communication, information technology and integrated infrastructures can radically alter how we do business. And, frankly, civil aviation hasn't kept pace.

Years ago, Charles Lindbergh said: "Flying has torn apart the relationship of space and time; it uses our old clock but with new yardsticks." I believe civil aviation needs new yardsticks for a new world clock because it's time for:

To put this in perspective, let's look at some numbers.

In the late 1920s, about 14,000 people flew by air in the United States. A trip from Chicago to San Francisco took about 20 hours. By 1961, the picture changed dramatically. About 60 million people flew annually in the United States and 110 million worldwide, and Chicago to San Francisco by air took four hours, nonstop, a savings of 16 hours in travel time. Last year in the United States volume grew to 665 million passengers, with 1.5 billion worldwide. The flight from Chicago to San Francisco was about the same as in 1961 if you didn't have a weather, traffic or mechanical delay. While your real fare was less, your total trip time actually increased.

The growth of air travel has put a strain on a civil air infrastructure that has evolved piecemeal over decades. If we don't make significant changes, we will see the tremendous utility and safety of air travel decline. Our current air traffic management system grew literally from fires and lights on hilltops to radio beacons to VOR/DME with radar coverage and transponders. Today controllers sit in towers or control centers and respond in tactical ways. Our system is like one-lane roads with traffic cops directing vehicles at every corner. A satellite-based airspace management system -- with global connectivity -- offers better control of the world's air traffic. Combined with information technology, air traffic management can be strategic and predictable.

The ground side of the air transportation system is even less integrated. Easy access to airports, quick, efficient check-in, and rapid security screening are badly needed. Technology is available today to improve our air transportation system and provide an integrated, global system without the gaps and delays of the current system. In addition, September 11th has created an unprecedented urgency to provide security for passengers and the aviation system. Safe and secure access to the skies is first. And we are obliged to find better ways to remain vigilant and alert while saving valuable time. Clearly if we want to grow, we must deal with these issues.

Everyone here knows that "time is money." Longer security processing times and idle time for passengers between flights translates into inefficient use of personal time while traveling. So, what can we do? We can use smart cards -- and biometrics -- to identify "trusted travelers." An integrated security system with positive identification can move 90 percent of travelers rapidly through check-in and security. It can be an "opt-in" system and thus avoid an extended debate about a mandatory national identification card. In fact, my informal survey indicates that most people would be willing to pay to join such a system. This system gives travelers a choice. Those who "opt in" trade some privacy for easy processing and valuable personal time.

So let me describe two trips: not real, but potential trips from Pittsburgh to Munich.

First trip: Today.

You need to be in Munich for a Monday business lunch meeting, so you book a Sunday flight to get there on time. There are lots of possibilities, but for this example let's go on the 1:10 p.m. Pittsburgh-Dulles-Munich flight.

This means an early start. Leave home about 9 a.m., get to the airport, park nearby. Check in by 10:10 a.m. to allow the three hours required for your international trip. After about an hour and a half, you have checked in and cleared security. You head for the gate for an hour-and-a-half wait. The waiting time is semi-productive: three calls to the office, lunch at the fast-food counter, and two trips to the restroom.

Finally, you board a British Aerospace Jetstream for the first leg of your flight -- a 183-mile, 75-minute trip. There is not really enough time (or space) to use your laptop, so you pull out the dog-eared inflight magazine and finish the partly completed crossword.

You arrive at Dulles International at 2:25 p.m., deplane, and search for a flight status board to get the connection gate number. You find the gate and settle in for a two-and-a-half-hour wait. Your Boeing 767-300ER takes off for Munich at 5:35 p.m. promptly, and your eight-and-a-half-hour air trip includes dinner, laptop work until the battery dies, and a short night's sleep. You arrive tired at 7:55 Monday morning at Gate C of the Munich Airport. (It's now 1:55 a.m. Pittsburgh time). You hunt for baggage claim, wait for bags, stand in line for customs, and hop into a taxi for a 45-minute ride to Munich. After you wait in the hotel line as others check out, you finally get to your room about 10:30 a.m. Then you rush to plug the laptop into the telephone data port (takes two tries and two commas) to get your e-mail before your meeting.

Total trip time, Pittsburgh to Munich, has been almost 20 hours -- about the same as it took in 1929 to fly Chicago to San Francisco. Time in the air has been about nine and a half hours; ground processing and wait time about 10 hours; and recovery time...zero.

Second trip: a potential tomorrow.

You are booked on a 7 p.m. point-to-point, direct flight from Pittsburgh to Munich on a Boeing Sonic Cruiser. The day of your flight, you enjoy Sunday at home before leaving at 6 p.m. for the nearby park-and-rail and speed train. On the train to the Pittsburgh International Airport, you check out the third quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers-New York Jets game on your laptop using broadband wireless access provided by Connexion by Boeing.

Twenty minutes later, you arrive at the terminal, check in, and clear security with your biometric smart card, which stores security data as well as your reservation and gate number. During the half-hour wait for the 3,700-nautical-mile trip, you zip into the Airport Arcade, buy a Nordstrom tie, head to the nearby gate, and check the weather in Munich on your smart watch.

At 7 p.m., you board your Sonic Cruiser aircraft, pull out your laptop (safe at any time), and watch the end of the San Francisco 49ers-Chicago Bears game using broadband wireless access. The trip continues smoothly with little turbulence. You eat dinner. Pay some bills. Balance your bank account online. Send an e-mail home. Watch world news on CNN - all in real time. Then you fall asleep.

Your Sonic Cruiser flight -- at Mach .95 -- is guided by GPS in the new global ATM system through the flight management computer, which allows more flights point-to-point with greater safety, security, and higher capacity in the system. You land at Munich International on Monday morning at 8 and move quickly to baggage claim, where your luggage waits for you on a claim carousel. You electronically pre-cleared customs at check-in so you are on your way to the high-speed city-link train from the airport's Forum. On the train, you quickly check your wireless laptop for e-mail from home, CNNmoney, and CNBC news on Europe.

After you exit the train, you walk to your hotel two blocks from the station to arrive by 9:30 a.m. You check in with your smart card, and this speeds up arrival to your room. You hang up your sensor garment bag that automatically freshens fabrics wrinkled on the trip. And after a refreshing one-hour nap, you put on your new tie and go to the lunch meeting. Your total door-to-door trip time from Pittsburgh to Munich has been about nine and a half hours; air time about 7 hours; ground and wait time two and a half hours; and nap time one hour. You have had an efficient, valuable trip on the ground and in the air. All home and office e-mail is done. All bills paid. All bank accounts balanced. You are up to date on world news and are fresh and ready to go to work.

There is nothing in this hypothetical system that must be invented. All of the technology exists. All that we need is the will and the guts to do it.

As I said 11 years ago: "It's certainly been an eventful year for commercial aviation." And those words ring true in 2001. I believe we are now at a crossroads, at a critical point in our industry. Civil aviation needs a new system. We need new yardsticks. We need to adapt now before it is too late. Most of us want progress, but without radical change, it won't happen. I believe we can find inspiration in Darwin's words that I have often used:

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change."

If we adapt now, we can grow air travel by making it more efficient, more seamless, and a positive experience for the 1.5 billion people flying worldwide.

Thank you.