The National Aviation Policy: Flight Path to the Future?

This is a guest post by Cameron Leckie of ASPO Australia

Submissions to the Commonwealth Government’s National Aviation Policy (NAP) Green paper have just closed. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there is no mention of peak oil nor its impacts in the Green Paper. Indeed the Green Paper predicts that domestic aviation demand will increase by 4% per annum until 2025-2026.

The NAP team has received a large number of submissions - they can be viewed here. At least one from Marrickville Council details concerns about the failure to mention peak oil, from a local government no less. Below the fold is the Executive Summary of ASPO Australia’s submission to the NAP. The full submission can be viewed here.

Executive Summary

World oil production has stagnated since 2005, despite record high oil prices, oil industry profits and investment in exploration and production. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that world oil production is at or near its historic peak and will most likely begin to decline within several years. Net exports of oil available on the world market have already commenced a terminal decline. It is likely that the decline rate for oil exports will be greater than production declines. Australia is already highly import dependent and will be increasingly so as domestic oil production continues to decline after peaking in 2000. This leaves Australia vulnerable to the impact of geopolitical circumstances, extreme weather events and other economic trends on world oil markets. The decline in oil availability will see dramatically increasing and highly volatile oil and fuel prices, oil supply shocks and impacts on economic growth, employment, demographics and transport patterns.

Steep increases in oil prices since 2005 have had an economic impact similar to the 1970s oil shocks, including reduced demand for road and air transport and negative economic growth. Given that world oil production is peaking, the global recession is perpetuating a ‘bumpy plateau’ cycle of oil price increases, recessions and temporary economic recoveries, which will hinder the world economy for the foreseeable future.

Aviation is totally dependent upon petroleum fuels, with no viable replacement likely to be developed for the foreseeable future. As world oil production peaks, so to will the availability of aviation fuel. Increases in fuel efficiency will be insufficient to allow the continued growth in demand for air travel. With no viable alternative fuels that can be produced in anywhere near the volume required this will lead to a decline in air travel. This coupled with falling demand as a result of the socioeconomic impacts of peak oil lead to the conclusion that peak oil will also mean ‘peak aviation.’

The Aviation Green Paper forecasts perpetual growth in aviation demand for the foreseeable future. This is based on a number of assumptions, both stated and unstated, that are being invalidated by current events. With no mention of peak oil, or how its impacts will be mitigated, this leads to the unfortunate circumstance where the National Aviation Policy is likely to exacerbate the impact of peak oil on the aviation industry while avoiding the need to develop alternative transport modes such as high speed rail. This will likely leave Australians in the unfortunate situation of having a failing aviation industry with insufficient alternative transportation infrastructure. This situation is however avoidable if peak oil mitigation measures are implemented on a sufficient scale in an urgent manner.

Based on a detailed analysis of the likely impact of peak oil on Australia’s domestic aviation demand, it is likely that over coming decades there will be significant declines in air travel. Three plausible scenarios are depicted in the following chart:

The key challenge for the Commonwealth Government and the aviation industry is how to deal with contraction of the aviation industry. Policies based on the flawed assumption of perpetual growth, such as those proposed in the Aviation Green Paper, will be counterproductive if Australia is to maintain a viable aviation industry able to serve the public interest. This submission proposes an alternative aviation policy statement developed to manage the decline in aviation demand as a result of the socioeconomic affects of peak oil.

An Australian Aviation Policy Statement for the Second Half of the Age of Oil

Australia is a large country. Aviation provides the ability to link Australians in a timely manner over long distances. However aviation is, and will always be dependent upon liquid fuels derived from oil. Due to the global peaking in the production of oil, over the next two decades Australia will have progressively less oil available to fuel its economy. This will result in a lowering of economic activity and as a result a falling demand for aviation services. Left to the vagaries of the market, peak oil is likely to result in the collapse of the aviation industry. The Australian Government is committed to the survival of a sustainably sized aviation industry. This will be achieved by:

  • A structured downsizing of the aviation industry, ensuring the survival of the industry, whilst providing retraining for those employees affected by the downsizing and providing time for an increase in transportation capacity by other modes, particularly interstate rail.
  • The prioritization of infrastructure funding to rail and bus networks to replace the capacity lost by the downsizing of the aviation industry.
  • Implementing plans for the nationalisation of a major carrier.
  • Fostering co-operation rather than competition between airlines.
  • Prioritizing support to the aviation industry based on the principles of need, energy efficiency and demand.

Related stories from the author:

The Future of Air Travel?
A Tale of Profit and Loss - The Future of Air Travel – Part 2
The Requirement For Oil Vulnerability Assessments

I remember when the airlines used to cooperate: that was grim. Of course high speed rail uses a lot of energy too (compared to more modest speeds), but that might be OK if it is electrified, depending on how the electricity is generated.

Robert, the reason behind recommending that they co-operate is that if they don't it will be a race to the bottom so to speak. They and we can't afford that. Of course that will mean higher prices for travellers, but if we want the aviation industry to survive then we need to accept that.

It wasn't just the colluded prices, it was all sorts of insanity, like 2 half empty planes taking off simultaneously. At the very least that is a waste of energy, and means that potential passengers are travelling by other more dangerous methods.

Yes I remember when oil prices were high last year, airlines were losing money on every flight. They were all hoping, maybe expecting, that other airlines would die first, making the market less competitive. If they'd cooperated to put prices up where they weren't losing money then passenger numbers would have fallen and they'd still have lost money paying the interest on those unused planes. The key, as you say, is to manage the decline of the industry, but maybe it is better if the government talks to the airlines instead of the airlines talking to each other.

What do you mean by cooperate. Do the airliners fly in long skeins (sp?) like geese so they all save fuel except the one at the front.

A bit of a facetious comment but you get my point. Cooperation is good in my opinion. Better than extinction.

While airline travel using jet aircraft seems the least likely to survive in a post-peak-oil world, while passengers can travel at 3L/100km, that's still better than any ICE vehicle with one occupant.

I've become less convinced over time that airlines will die off in a post peak world.

If we (as I hope) convert most ground based transport to electric vehicles, then a combination of biofuels and remnant oil production should be sufficient to keep many planes flying, particularly if they continue to make aircraft more fuel efficient.

Perhaps cheap charter flights for low income earners will be a thing of the past, but I doubt airlines will.

You're far too optimistic to be an editor here :-)

I think cheap flights can't be sustained (both from a peak oil and climate point of view). Day trips to meetings in London, New York or Sydney from other parts of the same country have to go. As does flying from your weekend home to a workplace somewhere else during the week. Weekend shopping trips 1000km away and bucks weekends on the other side of the continent (whether that's Dublin or Brisbane) are also symptoms of an overconsuming culture.

Occasional big holidays and longer duration business trips, where you can justify the use of valuable fuel and emissions, could survive. But that could be an aviation industry less than one third it's current size. It's only the economists who can't see how to make that happen - just a pity they're still running the show.

I hoping that my optimism is tolerated purely for the sake of editorial diversity - though I do wonder if a virtual lynch mob will one day descend on TOD ANZ and defenestrate me for good :-)

I agree that there is a huge amount of waste associated with what is basically airborne joyriding (something I've been as guilty of as anyone in the past) and that we can do without out it (and no doubt will over time) - but I'm fairly sure the days of business trips and long overseas holidays aren't going to disappear, and neither will the top end of the airline industry.

You're right Gav. Peak Oil won't mean the end of air travel, just the end of *cheap* air travel. Goodbye mass tourism.

Back in the 1930s when a Sydney-London air ticket cost as much as a house, some people still flew. Also in a thinly-populated country like Australia, aviation is a fairly low-infrastructure way to provide transport (compared with say a bullet train line from Sydney to Perth).

One thing that we do have to worry about concerning aviation infrastructure though, Sydney Airport is only one metre above sea-level and will probably become untenable due to global warming within less than the 90 years that have alrady elapsed since it was first founded on the edge of Botany Bay...

Back in the 1930s when a Sydney-London air ticket cost as much as a house, some people still flew.

Houses were a lot cheaper, though! $2,000-$4,000 was a common range - again, with skilled labourers earning $40 weekly; so a house cost one to two years' wages. Nowadays it's about ten years' wages.

Is the ratio that much different in Australia than the U.S.? Skilled labor in these parts averages about $40-$60 thousand a year, about four times the median house price. Also in the 1930s households didn't have two income earners, add that in and we are down to a modern house (which is a far different product than a thirties house) costing two or three years wages. Not much different than your 1930s number.

I will bet if the ratio of air fare/freight to median first world incomes returns to where it was in the thirties the airline industry will not be a big enough fuel user to warrant much consideration.

On a local note: the refinery here has halved its jet fuel shipments to the regional air cargo hub from 80 railcars a day (for Feb. 2008) to 40 (Feb. 2009) because of the downturn. Jet fuel is one of the most 'practical' ways for Alaska to conveniently deliver a high volume value added product made from its own oil so the manufacture of the product will likely continue here for the foreseeable future. Likely that will have little impact on Australia though.

Also in the 1930s households didn't have two income earners, add that in and we are down to a modern house (which is a far different product than a thirties house) costing two or three years wages. Not much different than your 1930s number.

Which is 2 or 3 years, because that is a 50% increase.

You also seem to think that 40 hours of earnings is "not much different" from 80 hours of earnings - a 100% increase. It is a travesty that it takes two incomes to run an average family household!

The average home now would be 150% to 300% of the physical plant of the average home available in the 30s. The standard 1930s chore load of labor intensive washing and ironing, preparing and cooking all meals from scratch, and labor intensive house cleaning added enough time to the homemakers day beyond what those same chores require today to free up at least an eight hour shift. The well off upper middle class (or lower upper class might be the more accurate term) had housekeepers to handle much of this, working class families handled it all themselves. Women raising the larger families of that time worked no fewer hours then than woman raising families do now.

The running around built into our current lifestyle is what really sucks the time out it, and most of that is brought on by our automobile centric system, the system we built in the glorious 50s and 60s.

A great many of the woman raising smaller families with a more mechanized chore load in the fifties and sixties had worked in the war plants and wanted out of the house and back on the job where they got a paycheck for their efforts. Of course the wage differential put in place by that time made sure their out of the house labor never matched up to the men's income wise so the slippery slope had begun.

Households had very little disposable time or money in the thirties. Its the mid fifies and early sixties post war boom years (in the victorious USA anyway) that are the good old single earner income days-with the perfect June Cleaver or Harriet Nelson kept homes-which are held up as some lost ideal. They were an anomaly not the norm, and we are still suffering from their hangover. Husband and wife teams have traditionally worked very hard except of course for the relative few of the upper crust, like those idle, bored gentlefolk of the Victorian novel who wouldn't stoop to a days labor (god had created the rabble to do that for them).

It is a travesty that it takes two incomes to run an average family household!

You can say that again. Most people don't seem to realise the squeeze that has occurred over the past 2 decades or so.

Also in a thinly-populated country like Australia, aviation is a fairly low-infrastructure way to provide transport (compared with say a bullet train line from Sydney to Perth).

We won't need bullet trains, though. 120km/h trains are more than enough (combined with high-speed broadband, so people can telecommute to business meetings). Sure, maybe 4 hours on a train doesn't quite compare to 2 hours on a plane (plus 2-hour check-in, plus 40 minutes disembarkation and baggage claim. Hmmm.), but it's in the ballpark. And you can increase rail capacity a lot easier than air capacity (add another carriage). Helluva lot cheaper than expanding an airport too.

Out in the sticks, it's a different story, but people are used to long delays, waiting around, and long transit times out there anyway.

Also, the link to the NAP Submissions in the Keypost is semi-broken. Needs reformatting.

Time is money, and in a post-peak world time will be less money. The high speed mobility afforded by cars at a local level and air travel at a global level lets us get more work done and make the most of our limited free time (Americans even more so since we don't get a month of vacation like the Europeans). Will we ever go back to ocean liners and 120 km/h trains for long distance travel? I don't know. It will still be a tradeoff between time and cost.

Do we actually get more done, though, or does the improved mobility simply mean we have longer commutes, and cheap airfares to Fiji?

Bellistner, I am currently reading Tainters book 'The Collapse of complex societies.' Although not finished yet I believe his thesis is that some societies reach a point of complexity which cannot be sustained due to the law of diminishing returns and the society reverts or collapses to a simpler form. I think that this can be related directly to what is happening in the world today. Our current world has got too complex, requires too many resources of all sorts for little or no gain and as a result is starting to collapse back to a simpler form. Relating that to this post, I think most peoples worlds are going to become much smaller and as a result there won't be the need for longer commutes, international travel etc. And of course this means that the demand for aviation will fall.

Think of it like a treadmill. You have to keep running faster just to stay in the same place. If you look at just employment, mobility certainly gives you a competitive edge over other applicants. It gives you a choice of workplaces over a wider area than an applicant limited by mass transit. However, it's only an advantage until everyone gets a car and then it becomes the minimum ante to get in the game. The only counteracting force is the expense of fuel and parking, but outside of crowded downtowns, most businesses treat free parking as a price of doing business.

We won't need bullet trains, though. 120km/h trains are more than enough

I am agreed with that, expense, and specific energy consumption rapidly rise with speed. I was hoping the speed cutoff could be set in the 150-180kph range however.

To understand what a lower oil-consumption future might look like, we can look at a lower-consumption past.

In the 1930s, an average wage for a skilled labourer was around US$40 a week. A third-class trip on a ship was $200 return, second-class $400 and first-class $1,000. The first cross-Atlantic flights in a rather cramped aircraft were $750.

A barrel of oil was a dollar. Demand was relatively low...

Translating that to modern prices, we get something like,
- weekly wage for a skilled labourer, $400
- cross-ocean return trip on a ship, $2,000 third class
- cross-ocean return trip on a plane, $7,500 economy class, ie about four month's wages

Could an airline industry sustain itself at such prices? I think so, yes - but by the same token, we'd see a revival of passenger shipping (as opposed to "cruises"). And the airline industry would be much smaller. Cross-ocean or cross-continental trips would be for the rich, for higher-ups in corporations, and for once-in-a-lifetime trips for regular people.

And therefore, the return of the Zeppelin.

Now, there's a wonder I hadn't thought might come back.

I agree that some aviation services may be better provided by airships. On a ton/mile basis they are way ahead of airplanes on an energy efficiency basis. The Graf Zeppelin proved that the use of hydrogen as a lifting gas can be done safely if safe practices are strictly followed. Newer materials could allow the use of higher pressure lifting cells that could use some of the hydrogen as fuel. The Graf used a mixture of flammable gases with a density close to air as fuel for its spark ignited engines.

I don't know why the myth of the energy-efficient airship persists. Well-designed (streamlined, with long wings) fixed-wing aircraft are more efficient than bulky (high-drag) airships if compared at the same speed. Jetliners fly around 600 MPH (although at high altitudes where the air is thinner, so it is effectively more like 300 MPH drag-wise). An airship at perhaps 100 MPH, or even less. An airship at 50 MPH may be an efficient freight hauler (relative to airplanes, not ship!) but would you want to ride it across an ocean (several noisy days and nights)? A better choice may be an airplane that is slower than the current jetliners. Other things being equal, the drag (and thus the energy used per mile) is proportional to the speed squared.

I was trying to find a handy inflation calculator for Australia but the switch to decimal happening only in 1966 made old numbers meaningless to a $ guy like me.
In the U.S. $40 in 1932 translates in $615 today, a little closer to skilled (definition probably varies) labor wages than $400 your calculations came up with

The Consumers Price Index calculator is handy

and the numbers its gives me jell well with what I have historically paid for things like cars and trucks back up through the 1960s. I don't have much handle on how Australia's wage/prices compared with the U.S. over that time frame, but using this calculator a $750 transatlantic airfare (zepplin?) in 1932 tranlates to about $11,600 today--a real airline industry shrinking number.

Neil, that figure is for an Airbus A380 with maximum passengers (I think that is around 800). QANTAS is only fitting there out for around 400 or so, and load factors are rarely 100%. This will be particularly so as the economic conditions worsen. So theoretically you might be right but in all practicalities I don't think that they will be able to achieve that level of economy.

Why I argue that there must be a structured downsizing is that there must be some critical mass below which airlines cease being to be viable. If the downsizing is not managed they could very well collapse mostly through a lack of foresight and planning, not because they were destined to.

Matt Mushalik has also put a submission into the Green Paper (go to the submissions link in the main post) on the impacts of peak oil on the aviation industry. I think he is even more bearish than I am.

I'd sincerely hope that you are less bearish than Matt !

I wrote a letter to Qantas they should ask the Federal Government to set aside Australian oil as feedstock for aviation fuel. We are now gobbling up our precious oil in urban areas for convenience purposes (where electric rail can do the job) while later it would be really needed for much more important things and a certain level of international flight service (not mass tourism) is necessary to keep Australia connected with the rest of the world. Think of all the scientists and engineers who will need to keep in personal contact when solving the enormous problems ahead of us.

Note that the air traffic projection for the aviation green paper was done by BITRE. They have learnt nothing since they published the WP 61

Is the World Running Out of Oil? A Review of the Debate

in May 2005. My critique of WP 61 in August 2005 has been re-published together with my submission

The government is still on debating club level.


this was a great critique. Did you get any feedback on it from BTRE? It would be very interesting to get that feedback now in the light of last years price spike and this years economic fallout.

Briefly, (if I can avoid the temptation to rant), The reason why we have hevier than air aircraft is the the lighter-than-air airships proved to be useless as war machines.
Until the Hindenberg "Oh, the humanity" moment the only paying passenger to be injured in an airship was Lady Drummond Hay who twisted her ankel while boarding. The hindenbergs burning resulted in a 25% casuilty rate. This would be considered a miracle in a Jumbo crash.
After the second world war the Chicago convention was set up to ensure the continued use the aircraft manufacturing industries of USA.
This is why we have heavier-than-air aircraft.
I suspect that my arguments will become blinding obvious soon.
I hope that I can avoid a superiority complex in the future. My smugness, however, will be uncontrolable.

Hmmm - when I was a youngster in Perth, we had a famous (very dodgy) entrepreneur named Alan Bond who (as just one of his ventures) created a company called Airship Industries and tried to sell airships to the world.

He didn't have a lot of success.

While high fuel prices may yet revive the blimp, I think the reason for their lack of success in recent decades is pretty obvious, and its not just a conspiracy to keep orders flowing in to Boeing...

It beats pushing a wheelbarrow across the Nullabor.

And Bond was (is) a house painter. No suprises he failed in more ways than one. (ad hominem attack, always a lot of fun.)

Airships were successful, there was a weekly run to Rio from Freidricshaven.
Hint: Airships have a large surface area.

Without chewing up heaps of time, Airships use a lot less power per passenger mile. (Unsupported, but obvious to thaughtful people.)

Granted they are not mass transport, but when they arrive the masses will have gone.

To enjoy todays rather cold and rainy Sunday afternoon I visited the Zeppelin museum in Friedrichshafen just across the lake of Constance where I live - and I'm always fascinated walking around in the 1:1 model of the Hindenburg ( and watching the incredible space-technologies those engineers developed a century ago...
I always thought that the only 'smart' application in an H2 economy would be flying. I would imagine very large Zeppelins circling the planet on fixed routes in high altitudes; never landing, always at full speed, being accessed by smaller shuttles carrying passengers and cargo from and to the ground. Solar energy would be the propellant and collected from the cloudless sky via a thin film PV skin. H2 would provide buoyancy and at the same time serve as energy carrier for night operation. Traveling above 300km/h would provide additional lift and controllability. The longer travel times would be compensated by comfort and convenience known from large cruise ships. I would be the first to use such an infrastructure for my long distance traveling! r

Sounds good, though we might come up with something more like the scenario in Dr. Who. with super rich and powerfull access only.

Luke, mate.
The masses will have gone.
There will only be the super rich being supported by their Uber-computers.
If Aunt Mary insists on seeing you in person and not in virtual reality then you might need to travel on an Airship.
Don't worry, the bunks will have nice white clean linen.
Your wine will be the finest vintage the Antartic produces.
You will deserve it.
You survived.

Arthur, I won't see it but such could never last anyway, not without the lower class to define rich.

We have a lifestyle Henry the eighth would die for.
We are the rich.

Solar energy would be the propellant and collected from the cloudless sky via a thin film PV skin.

It's a beautiful concept, but you'd have to get it to fly faster than the sun sets...

(Or do we just park it for the night???)

It beats pushing a wheelbarrow across the Nullabor.

Meh, we've got SCT, QRN, and PN for that. :)

We have heavier than air aircraft because it is way cheaper to manufacture and use. If rolf_w's vision about solar propelled zeppelins (I guess it'd use solar energy to create hydrogen too...) somehow becomes real, that may change. But for now, the ultra-light materials required to manufacture a H2 balloon are quite expensive, and those photo-cells will weight more than the ship could lift.

For anyone interested in this issue, there's a big article on peak oil and air travel by a World Bank specialist.

Access to the PDF at

The original article is published in the current issue of "Annals of Air and Space Law"

Energy Bulletin

If there is any meaningful economic recovery and then peak-oil is realized, then this will likely cause the airline industry to collapse to a fraction of its present size. Primarily because peak-oil realization would trigger another more sustained economic collapse.

Flights may be reduced to mostly inter-continental: across the Pacific, Atlantic, etc.

Many people would start calling for high speed electric rail.

Booking procedures for flights would change to reflect a pressing need for all flights to be full. This would not be a problem for some routes. Less traveled routes could result in a significant change to the way reservations are made - because there is a minimum amount of time a plane can stay on the ground (before it becomes uneconomic) the flight schedule would need to be much more dynamic. A dynamic flight schedule is pretty straight forward using software and the internet: There would be no regular scheduled flight on a route until the airline had enough interest for a particular route. Passengers would not have the luxury of choosing the actual date they fly. Instead they express an interest in a date, and wait (potentially several days) for a reply from the airline. When they get the reply it would contain dates (likely either side of the desired date) with the option of making a tentative booking. My guess is that 90% of passengers could change their schedule to fit the date that a flight might be available.

In really dire circumstances there will likely be a massive reduction in luggage allowance, with additional charges for anything bigger than a modest carry-on bag. It may be a lot cheaper to ship luggage several weeks ahead of some trips.

Flying around Australia, I have noticed the planes are fuller than they used to be. This is an unsupported claim. Just an impression.

The trans-continental line here in Australia has a baggage limit about 30kg. It costs 2 weeks wages from Sydney to Perth.

Our national railways in Rhodesia did much better. Nationalise the Railways.

We used to have Government-owned railways, but we sold them off in the name of 'efficiency', and 'competition'. It's been a failure. Only the 'backwards' state of Queensland retained control of its railways (and probably not for much longer if Lawrence "The Borg" Springborg flukes a victory and has to back up his promise of halving the budget deficit in three years (only achievable by cutting infrastructure works and selling assets).


Is the future of automotive h.p. like lawnmower engines?


You want peak horsepower?
Go electric.
How many G's acceleration can your body tolerate?
Just dial the number in.
And then dump the supercapacitors.
Your eyes bleeding yet?

I'm increasingly thinking that travel itself will not be a direct casualty of the decline in aviation fuel availability, but more specifically it will be _fast_ travel that will become unavailable. Great distances will still be able to be spanned, only at a slower speed, from hours via 777 to days via train and car, down to weeks via sail ships and horse.
In that respect, the peak has already been passed, following the demise of Concorde in 2003, the fastest mode of civilian transport ever made available to the public.

It seems like the demise of fast long-distance travel is going to have a big impact on international business. If you can't go check out your international partners, and employees can't easily get back and forth, it is going to become a problem rather quickly.

Telecommuting. More full-time, on-site "corporate ambassadors."

Peak Globalization?

Naw. In 1913 we were nearly as globally economically interconnected as we were in 1999. It took that long to recover from the damage that was caused by the great war.

I think that the speed of the economy is caused by compound interest going asymptotic. It forces people to work faster and faster and consume more and more energy. Energy/time= power.
We are serving the economy and the economy is not serving us.
A good servant but a bad master.
A good economy would free up time.

Agreed, when everything is hocked to the hilt to max capitalization that 24/7 interest comes home to roost fast.
'Work harder, you will get ahead' really means 'run faster, you are expendable.'
Workin' the edge,
staying out of the current,
been finding a good eddies to fish for now ;-)

Travel by air in the 30's and 40's was a mode of travel only for the wealthy. It will return to that character in the future. High speed air travel wastes a lot of fuel compared to lower speed air travel. Drag on the aircraft increases as a second power function. Doubling the speed increases the drag by 4 times for example. Turbojets are very inefficient compared to turboprop and even reciprocating engines with current state of the art combustion. I come from a family of pilots and my first ride on a commercial aircraft was the DC3 with twin reciprocating engines and could carry about 40 folks with decent economy at just under 200 mph. It could land on a rough short field and was amazing durable. They were not pressurized and so did not develop metal fatigue from repeated pressurizing cycles. This is a possible model and fuel efficiency could be boosted with newer technology and improved streamlining techniques but the basic plane is very sound. High speed rail is an expensive use of rail:4X to 5X as much as conventional rail so except in a few markets should probably be forgotten.

Wasn't the huge surplus of DC3s and C47s the backbone for the expansion of the post WWII air industry? A few locally still do a little commercial work or at least did up to a few years ago. They have lived long.

I used to jump out of DC3 in Rhodesia.
The pilots were the originals.

A few years back a diesel twin built by Diamond crossed the Atlantic with an average fuel economy of 30 mpg at a speed of 180 knots. Just slowing down a little can have a big impact on fuel consumption in an airplane. The speed reduction at 50% power and fuel flow is only 12% slower than at full power.
I see the future of aviation looking more like what happens in Alaska with its combination of slow bush planes and large airport based jets. People in Alaska have accepted the cost of traveling by plane over the expense of building and maintaining long stretches of highways or railroads. High and fast jets for carrying high value goods such as important parts for a factory or highly skilled technicians where downtime may be very expensive to a business. Low and slow for everyone else.

The speed reduction at 50% power and fuel flow is only 12% slower than at full power.

Thomas, I am interested in the question, if fuel economy, defined as passenger miles per gallon of oil equivalent were the primary design goal, what sort of numbers could be achieved? A back of the napkin type argument seems to indicate it is hopeless, as at fixed lift to drag, and fixed weight and cross section, one would get fuel consumption per mile independent of speed. But, of course a slower plane could be less structurally strong, so perhaps some of the structural weight could be used for payload instead. In any case current jetliners are designed for the transonic flow regime (80 to 85% of the speed of sound. Some areas the flow around the wing is supersonic. So presumably cutting back to significantly less (say .5 to .7 instead of .8) might give a decent gain. Does anyone have some studies on what the limits are? I'm afraid a big problem, is that no manufacturer is designing an airliner for a fuelcost dominated world.

High-performance sailplanes have long ago surpassed 60:1 L/D ratios.  This is without powered drag-reduction systems such as boundary-layer control.  If you are willing to go to span-loading, flying-wing configurations and use modern composites to a similar or greater degree than sailplanes, you could get very low parasite drag (induced drag is another problem).

The L:D of sailplanes includes the induced drag. It is reduced by using very long skinny wings - and modest speeds.

A "fixed" L:D (as in the comment above by "enemy of state") does not mean fixed energy per pound-mile of payload: better engineering (and materials) can increase the payload-to-airframe weight ratio. Some sailplanes carry more in pilot weight than the weight of the sailplane itself.

All this does not mean that aviation can be saved in its current form. It does mean that lighter-than-air does not have the advantage that initial "gut feeling" impressions give it.

Airplanes have a sweet spot speed where the sum of the induced drag and the parasitic drag is at a minimum. You need to understand the effect of angle of attack of a wing influences induced drag. Below the ideal speed angle of attack must increase to maintain the same amount of lift which increases induced drag. At speeds higher than ideal parasitic drag becomes more of a factor.

For a moment you had me wondering about 'speed angles' and 'ideal parasites'.

I'm a big fan of "sweet spots". In software engineering a lot of over-engineering, over-budgets and missed deadlines result from insisting on team-leads that are the "best available" with no consideration for targeting the sweet spot.

It will probably have to look substantially different than the Alaska model in Alaska as fuel prices increase. Bush plane travel and freight are extremely expensive (poundmile/gallon). With the federal bypass mail freight subsisdy shrinking things have already tightened up. Sustained oil price in the $150-$300 per barrel range will all but dry up the bush plane air distribution system. Low and slow will mean on water or ground or not at all unless much more efficient air transport is devised.

What about sub-orbitals?
Once you are in freefall, no more energy is required.
I see a combination of sailing ships, rail, airships and sub-orbitals for the folk in a hurry.
Airplanes are neither flesh, fish nor good red herring.

Suborbital means a lot of energy to get up there in altitude, that is "burnt" as friction on the way down.

Some people seem to have an unfounded "attitude" about fixed-wing aircraft. It's the speed that's the guzzler, not the concept of lift-via-wings. Ask the migrating geese if they'd rather walk

Perhaps the misconception is due to the Hollywood stereotype of airplanes plummeting into a death spiral as soon as the engines stop :-) You should take a ride in a sailplane some time.

What is meant by a "sustainably sized aviation industry"? Surely, from everything else in this summary, no size is sustainable. Was this put in to avoid being too alarmist?

There seems little chance of an airline industry surviving in any form but, certainly, a phased and controlled contraction is better than collapse.

it is all about timeframes and yes, it is written for an audience (politicians/bureaucrats). I guess what I mean by 'sustainably sized' is something that will survive for the next couple of decades.

As far as phased and controlled contraction being better than collapse, couldn't agree more. I think that is the response to peak oil. We either do it ourselves in some sort of order or let events take their course. I know which way I would rather.

The near future: My large multinational company has just decreed a 40% reduction in business air travel in response to the GFC. We will use video conferencing or teleconferencing to relace this surplus air travel by various executives and hangers on. Most other companies are planning or doing likewise. Once entrenched there will be not much going back. Business reduction plus newer, more efficient planes will reduce demand for fuel dramatically9 I'd guess 30-40%. Major airlines will merge or die with ratiomnalisation of major international routes.Bush routes are already being cut by the day.

in the body of the paper there a graph from a thesis on the future availability of aviation fuels against a couple of PO scenario's which shows that even with a 50% gain in fuel efficiency out to 2020 there will still be insufficient aviation fuel to meet 'projected' growth in aviation. I see the available fuel supply as the upper limit for aviation demand. However falling demand, as you provide an anecdotal example of, will mean that this upper limit won't be achieved due to the socioeconomic impacts of peak oil. This of course is the opposite of what governments, IATA or the aviation industry is planning on.

I'm somewhat mystified that peak oil is not being considered, are our politicians in denial or what, from another planet.

It is such a simple concept to get your head around,found theoildrum 2 years ago, read one article (by Khebab I think) and was immediately convinced by the glaringly obvious.

I'm mystified, sorry.

Having travelled Perth - Melbourne - Perth on the old train system, three days on the Nullabor, I got deep vein thrombosis and my feet were as big as footballs,
I favour the romantic vision of a mag-lev bullet train, a boat tail spitzer at 700 ft/sec, if we're gonna all be in happy denial. Might go and strum a Nirvana tune - Lithium.

Having travelled Perth - Melbourne - Perth on the old train system, three days on the Nullabor, I got deep vein thrombosis and my feet were as big as footballs,

The same rules apply on trains as on planes: get up and walk around every few hours.

And take aspirin.