They came in droves. From all corners of the globe they flowed into rural Wisconsin filling every hotel room for 100 miles. Houses were rented, tents were pitched, and brats found their way onto the grill. AirVenture was the event. Aviation was the draw. Solid connections between people was the end result.
It was spectacular, simply spectacular, on every level.
Of course when humans gather in large numbers, transit comes into play. Thousands upon thousands of people piled into cars, climbed onto motorcycles, and slid into cockpits for a trip of a dozen miles, or a hundred, or a thousand. That has an impact on our ecology, as well as the economy.
Many will argue the point that carbon emissions are killing the planet, and that airplanes do more damage to the atmosphere than cars or motorcycles do. Bicycles would be even better, assuming you have the time, fitness level, and directional sense to successfully pedal your way from Wyoming to Wisconsin and back again.
Although it may be counter intuitive, the airplane is actually the green choice. The far greener choice, in any case. When a classic general aviation machine like the Cessna 150 is matched to a modern, fuel efficient vehicle like the Mazda 3, the Cessna comes out greener. No kidding. It really does.
This might be a good time to re-think our assumptions about green vehicles, smart transportation, and travel planning.
Robert Isherwood flew his 1963 C-150 from Atlanta to Oshkosh and back again. I drove a Mazda 3 through Atlanta on my way to the same show, where I met Robert on the grounds of Wittman Regional Airport. While I was racking up some impressive miles per gallon, Robert wasn’t doing so poorly himself. I got in the high 30s. Robert was burning something around the low 20s, maybe even the high teens. So for the sake of argument, let’s say I was getting 40 mpg and Robert was getting 18. If that’s the case, then the Cessna is by far the greener choice. Yes, I said it. Eighteen mpg in an airplane is superior to 40 mpg in a car. And I make that assertion for one simple reason: It is true.
First, although Robert and I traveled between the same two points on the map, Robert logged fewer miles. While my most direct route was 866 statute miles (753 nautical miles), Robert could cover the route in less, only 734 statute miles (638 nm). Unlike cars, airplanes can fly direct routes. Robert burns 40 gallons while I burn 22. Advantage, Robert. Yes, Robert. Because although I burned only half as much fuel, Robert required no more than four miles of pavement for his entire trip, from start to finish, with fuel stops. I, on the other hand, used 866 miles of nasty, petroleum soaked, sunbaked, stinky black asphault.
The Cessna needs approximately four miles of runway to complete the trip. The Mazda needed 862 additional miles of road. This illustrates the conundrum of the mpg argument.
Burning nearly twice as much fuel may seem less green, but when the larger system of travel is considered, even the most fuel efficient car is far less ecologically kind than the airplane, if only because it requires an elaborate system of decidedly un-green roadways. And of course, the Cessna could operate from a grass strip if the pilot chooses to, even on a long trip like this one.
Who’s wasteful now?
Add to this disparity the impervious nature of a paved roadway, which causes stormwater runoff rich with oil, anti-freeze, transmission fluid, and heavy metals into the surrounding area. Yuck.
Having said all that, I’m not advocating tearing up all the roads in America. Let’s accept that roads are necessary. They carry the bulk of our nation’s population from day to day, providing access to work, school, medical facilities, and late night trips to the convenience store. Roads matter.
Ancient Rome made good use of roads, and grew rich and powerful as a result. But we would do well to recognize the benefits of the technologies available to us, and to make apples to apples comparisons when we measure one means of travel against another. Fuel economy is what we tend to focus on. But that is not the full story, not by a long shot.
Let us also consider the unbending, universally crucial element of time. The trip from Atlanta to Oshkosh by car can easily take 13 hours or more. Traffic, road construction, accidents, and rubbernecking drivers can ramp that timeframe up considerably. The little two-place Cessna can cover the distance in half that. And a 1963 model Cessna 150 sells for more or less that same price as a brand new Mazda 3.
In terms of time and ecological responsibility, the Cessna is the better choice, by far. Interestingly enough, people who fly tend to report a much more exhilarating, cheerful travel experience filled with spectacular panoramic views of the world below. They also encounter a grand total of zero toll booths. Drivers of automobiles rarely speak so enthusiastically of their travels.
Just imagine how much greener General Aviation will become as electrically powered aircraft become more practical and prominent in the marketplace.
Travel by air, even in the smallest, lightest, least impressive airplanes, really is a greener choice than traveling in the family car. Just remember to keep the chem-trail generator switch in the off position, and everyone will be happy.
Fly on. You’re being more and more ecologically responsible with every passing mile.