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Thoughts on The Fly

October 2, 2012

I just came back from a business trip to Nashville, Tennessee, USA to my home in Chennai, India. As these two cities locate on the almost opposite longitudes, the travel time is approximately the same either eastbound or westbound.

This time I took the westbound route, going over the Middle-East and Europe, with two 10-hour international flights plus one short domestic ride in the US. It was a long long trip and I had enough time on the airplane to think about flying.

Runway Far Away

Once all the passengers get onboard, the doors are closed and the plane backs off from the gate. The pilot welcomes you onboard and asks to buckle your seatbelt while taxiing.

At a high-traffic airport like JFK in New York, this taxiing could sometimes take half an hour or more. Airplanes with different size from different countries line up on the approach, waiting for their turn to hit the runway. The queue moves very slowly and the jet engines make high-pitch noise every time the plane advances just for some yards.

While watching this procession, I was wondering if they have any other power train than the jet engines. It seems to me too inefficient to fire that big engines in the traffic jam.

Hey, Taxi!

Interestingly, the Economist I got from the flight attendant had the answer – the plane uses the two jet engines even during the taxiing. And yes, that is indeed very inefficient. The average taxi time before the take-off is around 15 minutes, which consumes a ton of jet fuel on average.

At some airports, a new type of towing vehicle is being introduced to reduce the use of jet fuel (and cost) to one hundredths. An EV (Electric Vehicle) version of this towing vehicle is also being developed. In a near future, you may see these towing ‘taxis’ here and there in the airport.

Off the Water

By the way, the taxiing of the seaplane, the plane takes off from and lands onto the water, was a different experience. I tried this plane on my vacation to the Maldives. The airport of a water taxi company is located at a waterfront. After going through the gate, the bridge leads to a pier where you embark on the plane tied up to the wharf.

During the taxiing, the seaplane is like a boat. Having taken enough distance from the bridge, the plane speeds up on the ‘runway,’ bumping on the waves. Water splashes the windows as the burr of propellers deafen you. At the next moment, you are flying over one of the most beautiful ocean.

Today’s Lesson 

After almost 45 minutes of taxiing, my flight from JFK to Brussels finally took off. It should have consumed three tons of jet fuel, or several thousand dollars. It is no wonder that the fuel surcharge of my ticket was so expensive.

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