Spotting Innovation Trends in the Sky

Photo by extranoise

Photo by extranoise

It's something I've come to know quite intimately over the better part of the last decade. It's also something that the vast majority of us have a perpetual love/hate relationship with. It's by far the fastest way of getting places — places we might not otherwise ever have been able to see — and also oft fraught with frustration. And, it's come a long way from its origins in the early 20th century (or late 19th, depending on your historian), though it's remarkably recognizable as the relative of those early manifestations.

As a consultant, I'm of course referring to air travel. At its beginning, air travel was a dramatic, transformational innovation. An idea borrowed from our avian cohabitants, the innovation took quite a bit of trial and error to get off the ground (pardon the pun) — a real testament to the scrappy, entrepreneurial spirit of the Wright brothers (if you'll permit me to consider them first... I am from North Carolina). As with many a major breakthrough, the innovations that followed were largely incremental — with the very notable exception of the jet engine in the 1930's — consisting of wing shaping, frame retuning and materials upgrading.      

That said, some of my personal favorite innovations to have occurred in air travel have shown up in only the past few years, or even days — TSA PreCheck, lie-flat seats, revised device permissions.  

As I often am, I'm very curious about what's next. Supersonic commercial travel came and went with the Concorde, which got its start an astonishing 44 years ago — will that reemerge as the way of the future? The behemoth A380 seems about the largest thing we could possibly put in the air, but is size, perhaps, the way we'll incrementally innovate the market space? Maybe, just maybe, it'll be a move toward a much smaller scale, with personal flying vehicles replacing today's air travel infrastructure altogether.

What do you think? Whether you're a frequent flier or an irregular traveler, I'd love to know.  

- Clay (@bizinovationist