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Boeing’s Big Gamble

The article “Boeing’s Flight for Survival” (TR September 2003) highlights the contrasting marketing strategies employed by Boeing and Airbus for addressing the centralized-hub-airport issue. Centralized-hub routing originated in the early days of commercial aviation, when long-distance flights were punctuated by refueling stops. The advent of long-range transport planes eliminated the need for intermediate refueling, but airlines continued to favor routing via airports where they already had large maintenance facilities. This led the major airlines to develop such facilities into centralized hubs. The disadvantage of such hubs is that they compel airline customers to accept indirect routing. The Boeing 7E7 appears to offer a viable means of bypassing the centralized-hub system, and deserves the support of airport operators and passengers.

Marvin A. Moss
North Hills, CA

An even bolder gambit would be serious pursuit of the blended-wing-body concept, a hybrid of a “flying wing” and a conventional airframe design that promises significant fuel efficiency gains. A blended-wing-body aircraft with the same wingspan as today’s jetliners could carry more people and cargo. The crossover military applications-bomber, gunship, tanker, transport, and airborne laser all on the same airframe platform-make for some compelling economics. The government could even underwrite the $10 billion development, which would be recouped through discounts on military orders. Blended-wing-body has been proven with the B-2 bomber, and modern avionics controls could push the concept farther. Costs would be much lower because there would be no need to make this new plane stealthy.

David C. Herr
Berkeley, CA

As a pilot for a major airline, i must take issue with your editorial “Boeing’s Slow-Death Hand” (TR September 2003). I would consider the Boeing 707, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767, and 777 a royal flush. Boeing has a record of prudently implementing technology while maintaining sound business fundamentals. It won’t sell aircraft below cost, whereas Airbus has nearly given away aircraft to boost its order numbers. Boeing continues to focus on technical feasibility and economic viability. It dropped the Sonic Cruiser because of the economics involved, not because of technical issues. Boeing may have been bluffing with the Sonic Cruiser, using it as a distraction when it had a whole new line of aircraft up its sleeve. This gambit allowed Boeing to reveal the 7E7 now that Airbus is betting on the A380. And Boeing’s new family of aircraft could make the A380 obsolete. Boeing also continues to make the most advanced military aircraft in the world. The company might be better at poker than you give it credit for.

Frank Ketcham
Sausalito, CA

Honing Location Skills

Your story “WhereWare” (TR September 2003) was one of the most well-rounded articles on the subject I have read. There is one issue that I find present in a number of technological advances: the dumbing of our population. If we throw away our maps, or at least the ability to read them, and need a device to tell us where the next burger place is, what happens when the batteries die, the power goes out, or a big storm takes the servers down? It’s not the technology that worries me; it is our unbelievable desire to give up simple skills and just depend on the equipment. If we want to make the future really bright, we need to address the human part of the equation.

A. V. Rutter
Tulsa, OK

Operating-Room Efficiency

As an anesthesiologist, i was pleased to see that the Massachusetts General Hospital is trying to improve efficiency in the operating room (“O.R. of the Future,” TR September 2003) and presumably reduce the sky-high costs associated with surgery. It seems like they are reinventing the wheel with the “new” use of parallel workflow in adjoining rooms. Using a separate room for anesthesia setup has been commonplace in many countries for decades. In Melbourne, Australia, there are areas adjoining each operating room for anesthesia setup, for sterile setup, and for dictation and computer use so the O.R. (and surgeon’s) time is used efficiently for operating. When surgeons are kept busy operating there’s no need to tag them to find out where they are.

James Mitchell
University of California, San Francisco
San Francisco, CA

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