Peter Clarke has noticed plane tickets getting steadily more expensive. He reckons it is just the beginning and ponders the personal, societal and business changes that are going to come as flying returns to being something for the wealthy few. How would that change the electronics and semiconductor industries?
A colleague of mine just asked over Facebook: "Did plane tickets get ridiculously expensive, or is it just me?"
Well I don't think it is just him. I have been noticing the climbing prices of air tickets for a few years.
And with increases in energy costs around the globe and the acknowledged damage that burning fuel at high altitude does, I think airplane ticket prices are going to keep on getting higher and higher – unlike many of the planes.
It seems to me that – barring an energy-source breakthrough such as nuclear fusion – this is just the beginning. From some point in the not-too-distant future we will come to see the period from 1980 to 2010 – when a significant proportion of the world's population could afford to travel by air – as an anomaly, a short-lived golden age founded on oil.
While renewable energy may be able to make some difference on the ground it is hard to see how it can help much in the air. Although greater use of wind and solar energy would leave more oil available for air travel it is still hard to see renewable energy offsetting the massive increase in demand that is coming from places such as China, India and other developed and developing countries. In short gas will continue to be in shorter and shorter supply.
So are we going to see a return to an era when travel by air was a glamorous luxury to be undertaken by C-level executives and celebrities while we mere mortals will have to stay-at-home and enjoy travel vicariously over the internet? Could be!
For an industry that is more globalized than most; with specializations in different countries; an industry that flies chips and wafers around the world, sometimes as work-in-progress, that could have some "interesting" consequences. One argument is that chips are light and suitable to be carried as airplane cargo, or if necessary by surface transport, unlike the equipment, which perhaps should be made locally. But the more significant effect is likely to be the cultural one of keeping more people stuck to the surface of planet Earth and unable to meet and share ideas.
Could rising air ticket prices even halt and reverse the trend towards globalization, stimulating a need for localization of the many design and manufacturing skills that are currently coalescing at fewer and fewer geographic centers of excellence.
It's hard to say, but peak-oil is big global-trend stuff and rising air ticket prices, with fuel surcharges and the like, is just one early symptom. As Bachman Turner Overdrive once said: "You ain't seen nothing yet."