Just As I Thought

The a la carte airport

I’ve been reading up on the new San Jose airport, which opened today — things like this fascinate me for some bizarre, geeky reason.

I’ve been reading up on the new San Jose airport, which opened today — things like this fascinate me for some bizarre, geeky reason.

The airport itself is geek paradise, designed to evoke an “unraveling fiber optic cable,” and filled with high tech design and services.

Seats at the gates feature power outlets and USB ports. Wi-fi is free and ubiquitous. Ventilation systems are built right into the seats. A creepy interactive “Space Observer” sculpture watches your every move, and the “eCloud” changes colors of 2,000 electrically charged glass panes as temps rise and fall.

But what really interests me is this tidbit: the airport can assign ticketing counters and gates, on the fly, to the airlines that need them.

Because of the new networking infrastructure, gates and ticket counters are “generic,” allowing an airline employee to log in and take over that position. If an airline’s gates are full, they can temporarily park a plane at another gate and pay only for the time they use. Airlines now share all the gates at the airport, instead of leasing a particular number. It’s an a-la-carte airport.

It makes perfect sense, logistically and economically. And in my mind’s eye, I can speculate on a potential outcome: for years now, San Jose has been losing flights and airlines as the industry started to collapse. Southwest — one of the few profitable airlines — still has a large presence at SJC, but many others have cut flights or stopped service altogether. It means a long drive to San Francisco for many destinations.

But what if airlines no longer had to enter into long-term leases for gates and ticketing facilities? What if an airline could rent a gate for a day, for half a day, for 3 days a week? What if Qantas wanted to offer a flight to Sydney from San Jose, but only on Saturdays? No longer would they have to waste huge amounts of money leasing space they wouldn’t use. Could this be a concept that saves SJC and other smaller airports?

Maybe Silicon Valley will change the world again?

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