The future is not a gift: it is an achievement.


“Geography is destiny”
-penned by Abraham Verghese (Cutting Stone).

Fate or free-will will decide the future of tourism led economies such as Dubai and Singapore. We’re all familiar with the strategic government manifested realities of these two cities. In the case of Dubai, the will and vision of a single sheik transformed dry, arid dessert into a Middle-Eastern Shangri-La oasis that aims to be the savior from the Dubai doomsday when the last drop of oil is siphoned from its sands. Is it possible America and Europe could retain its air superiority if they too chose courage instead of apathy? What becomes of destiny if we change directions?

There is however far more to the story. It involves side-burns, mustaches and the hero of our story, a Boeing 747. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times you could argue: the late seventies was a time when you could smoke on plane, airline food was horrible, but you could pack your entire wardrobe without a Ryan Air carry-on interrogator molesting your luggage in the boarding line (or so I’ve been told). Despite the luxuries of lung-cancer, and anorexic female only stewardesses, the 747 of this period was limited to a 4,000-6,000 mile range (Boeing 747). Interesting it is about this same geographical distance of London (or most of Europe) to Dubai (7125 KM / 4427 MI). Combined with cold war restrictions over soviet airspace, your Europe to Asia holiday would have required a refueling stop (or a very abrupt landing), coincidentally, right over the skies of Dubai.

Fast forward a decade or later and we see a similar geographical trend with modern day A340 and A380 air-crafts that can now transverse the 9000 nautical miles from the U.S. to Singapore. These city’s geographies represent the limits of modern day jet air-crafts. As the “rest-areas” of the aviation highways, it was only a matter of time before airline tourism facilitated resort development at these two hot-spots of travel.

While the predestination of these destinations may have been written in the stars, it would take the vision and hearts of men to build Dubai and Singapore into the wonderlands imagined in the minds of those who would define their futures. As Lohman, et al state, it was derived from the right person, at the right time, transforming the destinations from “connectivity to interconnectivity”. To become more than just hub depends on the destinations ability “to provide facilities and attractions” capable of enticing travelers to transform layovers into tiny add-on (would you like fries with that?) vacations. These stop-overs often at the head of a traveler’s itinerary capture the pockets of the entire travel budgets of the consumer before arriving at their final destination.

Build it and they will come, but who will do that? The key factor in both Singapore and Dubai was their initial investment in the transportation infrastructure, both in the airline industry and supporting services. One only needs to look at nearby Cairo, Egypt to see examples of cities who have failed this test with its isolated airport, and poor inter-connectivity between attractions. The result in Egypt has been a 33% decline in tourism since 2008 (Jones 2) though it maintains a similar Arabic culture and geographic location.

In Singapore travelers are provided free transportation between hotel, airports, and attractions in addition to discounts. In Dubai a metro system connects Terminal 3 with center city. This link between the airlines, and the indirect tourism based commerce, is the key to any successful city that wishes to increase its tourism product for economic gain. Even in Krakow Poland, a “single track retro-fitted, ex-Cold-War, above ground train” operates as a “stop-gap”, “Coney Island rollercoaster” that connects passengers with the larger shopping district (Jones 4).

Seeing the “big picture” and passing these milestones of destination transformation seems to come much easier when both government and the travel industry are one and the same. In Dubai, the Maktoum family owns and operates almost every facet of the vision. From marketing to civil aviation, to the Emirates group: an all-encompassing travel entity including the flagship airline, hotels, travel agency, and who sets a single philosophy of being the best at any cost, attempts to create a “paradise” for travelers.

Likewise in Singapore, the government owns the majority of the supporting companies in addition to the national airline. These national monopolies allow for, in the case of Singapore and Dubai, their strategic tourism vision, and concerted efforts to be more efficient and productive than their competitors, resulting in a travel-product much more appealing in a global market. Since the separation of Singapore from Malaysia, the government has created numerous action plans to compete economically with its neighbours. One such plan in 1981 created the Changhi Airport enabling the movement of the raw goods for manufacturing from the natural resource barren Singapore (Singapore Changhi Airport). This single act solved the lone runway problems of an exhausted airport infrastructure that already was overtaxed by fuel-thirsty jumbo jets bound to Australia on the Kangaroo Route from the United States (Kangaroo Route).

Today Dubai aims to outrun its destiny of dwindling oil, as both Dubai and Singapore chase the market competition from neighbouring tourism locations by building the biggest and the best. It's not been without controversy, as many U.K. Newspapers have noted often enough, as in the case of Dubai, being built on the backs of slave labour (Hari-Johann).

"Most companies are owned by the government, so they oppose human rights laws because it will reduce their profit margins. It's in their interests that the workers are slaves."                         -Mohammed al-Mansoori (Hari-Johann)

 The longer term question is whether both these destinations can remain enticing destinations; balancing their exotic image with perceived safety, as airliner range enables bypassing these destinations.  In addition, resorts spawned from current airline success may become strained for natural resources and growth rates will demand a continuous new flow of tourists. Turn the water off to the golf courses that each require four million gallons of water a day in Dubai, and they quickly return back to the desert sands that mankind foolishly believed he had mastered to control (Hari-Johann). As Andrew Marvell once said in ‘The Mowers Against the Gardens’,

“Luxurious man, to bring his vice to use
Did after him the world seduce?
Where nature was most plain and pure.
He first enclosed within the gardens square”

Integration seems to be the final factor that allowed both Dubai and Singapore to transform from “gas-station”, to mega-destination. State capitalism, as used in both the previous examples, while successful, has had limited success outside of these sixth freedom destinations. In capitalistic America, integration has in the past been met with regulatory red-tape, or disorganized management of the vertical services due to lack of competency in operating non-core products. Ideally integration would lead to scope of economies providing for cost efficiencies (as such is the case in Dubai and Singapore), however when the theory of contestable markets was applied to U.S. Airlines through de-regulation, what we found is a carnivorous oligopoly that cannibalizes itself till it creates a unfriendly climate for upstart competitors, and airlines who are reluctant to change. In contrast, Dubai welcomes foreign competition to not only “feed” passengers into its own airlines, but also its tourist attractions in their host cities. Because airlines in the United States are primarily concerned with their profits to shareholders, rather than the greater good of its nation or state they represent (or are based out of), successful vertical integration has been met with limited success in both the European Union (exceptions such as Thomas Cook and My Travel withstanding) and the United States. While Dubai and Singapore sells what's better for the entirety of the state, U.S. carriers sell what's better for investors, even at the expense of its host, or its consumer's satisfaction. As exemplified by Debbage and Alkabi, the trend since the Allegis disaster (an attempt to merge Hertz, Hilton US-Air and Westin) has led to a policy of disintegration through outsourcing, and sub-contracting. In addition, strategic alliances without full integration allows for code-sharing, shared marketing, and asset pooling without the inherent risk and responsibility of managing non-core products in a regulatory nightmare of western economics and politics. Of course there's always an exception, and for instance in 2012, Delta Airlines purchased a refinery to begin manufacturing its own jet-fuel. While Allegis has created a stigma against integration, Delta along with Emirates and Singapore Airlines may be indicating the proven path forward for success in tourism industries, though it remains uncertain if their successes can be duplicated (Graham 161). In either case we’ve set sail for this new “world view” as a result of our shared histories in these locations, routes and geography. The future is uncertain, the destination is unknown, but success in the airline industry seems like it could be only an ocean apart.

PART II:
Last time I was in the Middle-East I flew back through London’s Heathrow on British Airways transferring on a code-share flight aboard American Airline’s tin. I had a tight connection, and knew from previous experiences that American’s gates are half-way to Cardiff, which meant that it quickly became a marathon to make it to the gate on time. Upon arriving at the gate: panting, and out-of-breath, I was met by an Indian man with a Scottish accent who asked “why are you running?”

Why was I running? Why does British Airways sit in the prestigious Terminal 5, while American carriers are tethered to a quarantined leg of the airport? The answer comes from Debbage who suggests it is a result of Heathrow’s “lack of runway slots, insufficient terminal capacity, and airspace congestion”. Indeed, this same flight two years earlier would have been flown out of Gatwick, but due to the 2008 Open Skies Agreement, American Airlines was able to generate a new direct route to Raleigh, North Carolina, now bypassing the equally over-capacity New York hubs.

As the liberalization of the skies continues, this phenomenon, of bypassing traditional hubs like Heathrow (or in this case New York) should be of equal concern for both traditional western destinations  and newcomers like Dubai, and Singapore, as alternatives become more attractive for airlines and customers. Indeed as previously mentioned, it is completely possible with modern airline equipment to bypass Heathrow to the Middle East from the United States.

Yet the demand for Heathrow is still overwhelming despite its single-phase dual run-ways, outdated architecture, and expensive rates. The unique U.K. Departure and Arrival Tax (generally $300 more expensive than similar class tickets to Paris, or Brussels) appears to do little to deter the flying public who demands to arrive in this English speaking hub.

With Heathrow at 98% capacity, tourism growth is bottlenecked until a solution is found, or public interest alters travel behaviour. It is this battle to expand Heathrow in a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, where a few citizens can hold hostage the future of a nation, which makes the absolute rule of history’s past seem nostalgic to many Airline CEOs. In the case of Dubai or Singapore, though they sport democratic processes on paper, the absolute nationalization, integration, and monopolization of their travel industries, currently creates less resistance to quickly adapt to the needs of the industry.  Even the European Union, according to Debbage, alludes to the fallacy of the current slot appropriation process by stating the current conundrum with airport congestion “represents a barrier” to competition. The convoluted, almost mystic process of who gets what and what is owned by whom, is a grey area of red-tape purgatory that does little to address the underlying issues of over-capacity facilities and infrastructure. What appears to the general public as smoke filled back-room dealings of arm-breaking trades and under-table cash-swaps for slots has resulted in perpetuated competitive advantage for grandfathered carriers, with little room for any increases in route competition. The British approach of taxing everything, adding airport charges based on vehicle weight, and later peak times has done little to thwart the Heathrow-thirsty traveller, unaware, or unwilling to connect in an alternative European airport to save an insignificant amount of money.

Debbage highlights several methods currently being proposed for slot reform like switching to mixed mode, or adding additional runways. Some of these changes are easily implemented, but have been unsuccessfully approved as area residents and ecological supporters challenge green-house gasses, jet noise, and the reclamation of land necessary to expand.

Interestingly it is Dubai that already exemplifies several alternatives to London’s bottle-neck, which doesn't involve replacing the prime minister with a dictator. Portions of Dubai’s Terminal 1 and 3 have been placed underground (under-apron) linking over-ground structures to facilitate the use of additional air-bridges. This concept should be familiar to the English who originated the concept with their subway system lovingly named The Underground. Moving Heathrow terminals underground could provide enough space for an additional two runways.

Several airports in the world find their current dilemma dictated by poor planning in the past, and find themselves confined to a certain amount of acreage due to surrounding growth. Generic, old-fashioned airport design has bottle necked airports like Heathrow. Design has remained mostly unchanged since the farms of Heath Row were paved over for civil aviation. Though small changes are occurring, like at London City Airport where pushback isn’t necessary, a costly and timely procedure, due to the angle (135 degrees) of the air-bridge structures resulting in quick turn-around, or angled runways to reduce fuel costs on take-off and landing.  Though Terminal 5 (the newest part of the airport) at Heathrow does sport an underground people mover, the shape and design of the terminal continues (purposely) to be reminiscent of an oversized airplane hangar of a by-gone age.

If London would adopt a bigger and better approach similar to Dubai’s, I’m certain they would find the challenges faced (and opposition to change) could be met with the innovation made in the imaginations of British men and women. While change always comes with consequence, and often with sacrifice, the only certainty of complacency is losing when “enough good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke). Where is Britain’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat” when it comes to retaining their crown on international travel (Churchill)?

PART III
It’s more complicated than that though. The ten ton elephant in the room is the United States. A juggernaut of both blessed, sweet capitalism and hellish international legal torture that has stalled the aviation industry for decades with outdated and protectionist practices. As Button states in the second paragraph of his paper, the Open Skies Agreement has been a “stepping stone” to removing these barriers which have plagued improvements from everything from navigation systems, to the way airports are used. Regulation, it would seem has thwarted innovation, or at the very least, adaption to the needs of an industry that required significant change since its inception. The landmark agreement which started in the Netherlands, and allows for movement between any two international city-pairs has spread across the European Union and the United States to create a unified Europe, benefited by a better managed feeder network from the world’s largest aviation market: The United States.

In Table 5 of Button’s article, he provides the details of seven reports with all, less one, that seemed to indicate positive verticals in airline profits, flight frequency, airport job growth and decreased ticket prices. Button downplays the congestion issues, and consequentially addresses Co2 emissions as the more serious problem caused by the impact of the Open Skies Agreement as it creates more traffic. Yet he concludes that the reason for the success in any of these issues is due to the new flexibility given to an industry once held rigidly by regulation. Being able to adapt to the market needs, with more efficient routes to meet consumer need seems to solve, at least in the short term, many of the issues facing the air-bridge from the Americas to Europe.

What we’re seeing is a unification of the Euro-American aviation markets, as the governmental bodies dance around the taboo thought of economic unification of Europe and the United States. What at one time would have been considered unthinkable is now reality in Europe, as Buyck quotes Air France’s president on the purchase of Dutch KLM: “…with time the only question of ownership will be European.” He then states eventually this “…will become the rule everywhere”. Academic, and political scientist Igor Panarin who predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, believes based on the economic forecasts for the United States, that one such future involves the United States joining the European Union as a result of the collapse of the dollar. It is an alternative to ponder while Americans warm to Asian or Middle-Eastern ownership of U.S. airlines. A unified Euro-American Union (if even only in the sense of tourism) would likely, because of its combined market, be an avid competitor against more profitable carriers like Emirates and Air China. One could assume that Americans would be more likely to accept foreign ownership in this sort of common market due to a shared history and genealogical background. Just as the United Kingdom has managed to maintain its nationalism through its hybrid European Union membership without switching to the Euro, a similar concept could be considered for an America wishing to gently move towards a single economic market. This rational approach however may be overshadowed by Panarin’s more apocalyptic prediction of a U.S. civil war and economic collapse (Osborn). Sceptics might find such a suggestion laughable, yet few can deny the current political climate in the United States has been ineffective to embrace major changes, and  is one in which many of its citizens describe as a “democratic deficit” and “broken” similarly to law professor Sanford Levison at University of Texas Austin (Levison).

It is America’s divergence from their European counter-part’s mind-set that may be the hubris of the entire system. The differences are now so vast that even when it is economical beneficial to unify, the culture of the American mind is one in which it prefers independent, protectionism, rather than the community based mind-set. Exceptionalism is a concept a part of many American’s nationalism, and is often verbal expressed in the news and pop culture with mantras similar to: “America is the greatest country on Earth”.  Yet the American mind-set and reality are in conflict with each other, by a number of measures America is not number one (Leopold).

The problem is Americans still have an image that they are the cowboys, perhaps idealized by their frontier spirit. Carrying guns, driving tank-like SUVs, and clinging to the Marlboro man image when the reality is the guy on the Harley motorcycle is actually an accountant from the suburbs, and most Americans are too psychocentric to even fly to Europe. Only about a third of third of Americans hold passports while 71% of Europeans do (Chalmers). Yet the picture becomes bleaker when you consider, conservatively, only between 5-8% of Americans travel overseas on these passports. Indeed passport requests have only increased in the United States as a result of tightened border restrictions at Canadian and Mexican borders, as well as port-of-entry from cruise ships, as a result of the September 11th terrorist’s attacks.  Europeans are aware of the American mindset as exemplified by the Award Winning French film “Toute Une Vie”:

What is an American? He's a Jew chased out of Russia, an Irish Protestant who escaped from the Catholics, a Sicilian gangster who escaped from the cops, and a German filmmaker who escaped from the Nazis. There is nothing better than a country full of outcasts, of persecuted refugees and hunted men. They are the ones who invented capitalism. To carve a country out of a wilderness, they had to invent a system for adventurers. The trouble is that today, they are only the sons and grandsons of the original gangsters. They received an inheritance that they probably didn't deserve. Buffalo Bill's son couldn't shoot as well as he did. The sons of the Mafia can't match their fathers. Inheritance undermines capitalism. It may be a fatal flaw. Through the generations, it makes accountants out of adventurers.

It’s these cultural differences that led to other problems between the United States and Europe, such as the divergence from the dollar backed economy after crisis in the seventies. The result was a unified Eurozone that strengthened European markets while circumventing the United States stranglehold with the dollar. This exemplifies how market unification if applied to Airlines could be beneficial, however consequentially quite difficult with the American history of expected exceptionalism when it comes to agreeing to terms.

 Indeed the tone of the entire liberalization of the skies has been cautious by all actors according to Buyck, with only a few “cowboys” like Aer Lingus choosing to test the waters with new routes. Buyck suggests Ireland is a “hidden gem”, an infrastructure-ready destination complete with international airports that could become competitive gateway challenging the more traditional London airports.

Humphrey perpetuates the pessimism by suggesting current agreements are “optimistic”, and doomed to “fail” especially if the United States doesn’t react with changes to their ownership rules. However Humphrey blames many of the problems on the British with their bottlenecked Heathrow which he suggests, remains popular due to its better connectivity, and B.A.A.’s slow, often reluctant response to change. He points out British Airways lobbied against the joint agreements, and that, its (inherited) control (along with other grandfathered  carriers) has limited the available slots for U.S. carriers to adopt, thus rendering the concept of liberalization as one in which it is better on paper than in practice. He does concede that sub-leasing strategic alliance partner slots has resulted in carriers acquiring sufficient slots to create a greater productivity (a few more flights), but due to the costs of Heathrow have been unable to increase profitability.

A combined U.S. and European tourism market dwarfs competitors like headline grabbing Dubai who state 31% of their Gross Domestic Product is tourism. To really put things in perspective, Dubai’s tourism is currently worth 25 billion dollars, Europe: 650 billion, and the U.S.: 116 billion (World Tourism Rankings). Yet when it comes to airline profitability there is no doubt Emirates 1.5 billion in profit (Rai) over the U.S.’s meager 1.5 million and Europe’s combined 2-3 billion dollar airline industry, leaves investors scratching their heads (Jansen). To remain separate is to accept that you’re trading profitability for nationalism, and denying the fact a nationalized airline industry is more profitable. It would appear as though Europeans and Americans want the best of both worlds while limiting an industry under the guise of free-market capitalism. If the two unions (Europeans and Americans) continue to fear the idea of a hostile takeover by economic acquisition from the East, perhaps they should cower together in the hopes they can innovate a single market?

While Dubai may hold a geographical upper hand on the global map, the geographical center of international travel for the envied U.S. market is the North Atlantic international routes from the United States to Europe, and which according to Buyck accounts for over “55 million passengers and 385 flights a day”.

In fact it is there; on the island of Ireland we see a tiny light in the dark sky. Perhaps the greatest example of deregulation success is Ryan Air, a Dublin based budget airline which continues to increase profits, offer seats for as little as £1, and has even attempted to buy out the national airline: Aer Lingus  (Ryan Air).  Interestingly Ryan Air typically gains cost-savings by bypassing expensive airports like Heathrow (often) departing and arriving in smaller, lower cost airports. However their success and popularity in mainland Europe suggests flying a “foreign carrier” is less of a concern than ticket price for some individuals, or that the single European identity, through unification has been economically positive for Ryan Air. It’s certainly something for reluctant legacy carriers to consider as Ryan Air continues to threaten the idea of entering in the trans-Atlantic market since the Open Skies Agreement came into force.  Not only has Ryan Air enabled more people to fly more places, expanding tourist flow beyond the already over-capacity main airports, it has created an additional secondary industry of transporting tourists to these more distant airports. For instance, while living in Brussels I was able to fly to Italy and many other countries by flying out of Brussels South Airport instead of Brussels National. National is an easy ten minute train ride from central Brussels, but Brussels South, which is actually in a small town called Charleroi (a nifty marketing gimmick), is about thirty kilometers south, and requires either a car, or a creative use of various forms of transport to get to. There is a shuttle from the train station (Gare Du Midi) for about €10, but because a number of the Ryan Air flights that depart in the off-peak early morning (another cost savings), finding a method of reaching the shuttle before public transport commences (5:30 AM) is difficult. For Poland, I awoke at 4 AM; walked from my home in Anderlecht to the automatic public bike dispenser (Villo), rented a bike through the kiosk, and then rode it several kilometers with my sixty liter carry-on back pack to the train station. There, I returned it at the train station rack, then took the shuttle-bus to Charleroi before boarding my two hour direct flight. Upon arrival in Rome you then must find a similar transport method when you arrive (luckily no bikes are involved). Taxi drivers often benefit from tourists unwilling to go to the lengths of more stubborn tourists such as myself.  The end result of all this was a profitable airline, a 200 Euro dream Roman vacation for me, and a job for the bus driver both in Belgium and Rome.

The truth is that past agreements and regulations served to protect mostly the larger legacy and national flag carriers. The more we move towards an open and free sky, the more we see positive results like Ryan Air in Europe occur. Change is hard, and likely in the end, those who are on top now will disappear, but the idea of not changing means never improving things. The future lies in niche carriers, a combined Euro-American aviation market, and the opportunity, stolen under regulation, for innovation and the possibility for the industry to re-invent itself.

It’s out there, and it’s coming, a new dawn in the airline industry where we rise to the challenges of the future similar to the way Dubai and Singapore have, or capitulate in a nostalgia for the past where our existence as leaders of an industry fade into the dark, replaced as outmoded relics of a culture too divided to save themselves from extinction than to find a common goal.
I’m reminded of the day I was walking through London’s Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel and saw the writing on the wall. Painted on the tunnel was a quote from Robert Kennedy which serves as a rally cry to the airline industry:

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprises...

The future is not a gift: it is an achievement.

Works Cited

“Boeing 747”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia

Foundation, Inc. 6 April 2013.
Chalmers, William D. “The Great American Passport Myth: Why Just 3.5% of Us Travel 
Overseas”. The Huffington Post 29 September 2012. 15 April 2013.
Graham, Anne; et al. “Aviation and Tourism: Implications for Leisure Travel”. 2010.
Hari-Johann. “The Dark Side of Dubai”. The Independent 7 April 2009.
9 December 2013.
Jansen, Bart. “Airline Profits Dip, but Performance Improves”. USA Today 21 February 2013.  
1 April 2013
Jones, Liv. “Build It and They Will Come. | Can Tourism Deliver Egypt?”. December
2012. 
“Kangaroo Route”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia
Foundation, Inc. 8 April 2013.
Leopold, Todd. “We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1! We’re… Uh… Not?”. CNN 2 July 2012. 12 
April 2013
Levison, Sanford. “Our Broken Constitution”. Los Angeles Times 16 October 2006. 
11 April 2013
Osborn, Andrew. “As If Things Weren’t Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.” . 
Wall Street Journal 29 December 2008. 10 April 2013
Rai, Bindu Suresh. “Emirates is World’s ‘Largest’ Airline”. Emirates 24/7 10 May 2011.
3 April 2013. 
“Ryan Air”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia
Foundation, Inc. 7 April 2013.
“Singapore Changhi Airport”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia
Foundation, Inc. 7 April 2013.
 “World Tourism Rankings”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia
Foundation, Inc. 7 April 2013.

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