Domestic flights surely don’t have to be so difficult?

Gerry O'Brien, AKTII

Are there creative minds capable of simplifying the process of domestic flight? Gerry O'Brien throws down the gauntlet.

It is of course fantastic news to hear the Government’s commitment to invest billions of pounds in the rail infrastructure of the North of England.

It’s aim is to reduce journey times between Metropolitan areas which collectively constitute a population of a similar size to London.

History often has a way of repeating itself and it would be wonderful to see re-empowerment of these areas some of which were the powerhouses behind the industrial revolution and the consequent bubble of economic comfort that we as Brits have now had the fortune to occupy for centuries.

In the  people who chose to live in the North of England and the cities of Scotland there is a fantastic resource remains both tantalisingly close and tantalisingly out of reach of really effective engagement with London, our present day powerhouse, and through that the wider world.

"One would imagine that it must surely be possible to conceive of a situation where you simply walk up and board a plane much as a National Express coach."

But perhaps rail is not the only option that we have to try and facilitate a speedy and substantive link to this resource. For many years now I have wondered that no entrepreneurial soul had managed to invent an effectively “turn up and go” plane link; a service that takes all of the time and hassle out of catching a domestic flight. I suppose this thought first entered my mind around 15 years ago when I was courting my now wife. She was living in Glasgow and I in London.

Every other weekend I would fly up to Scotland, have a wonderfully pleasant weekend and then on Monday morning catch the 6am plane and be at my desk in Farringdon by between 8 and 8.30am. Not a short commute but my present day Battersea to Farringdon commute, all of 5 miles, takes around an hour most days.

I revisited this idea recently when we were asked to look at a site in Edinburgh close to the City bypass for a client. The site was within a few miles of Edinburgh Airport and so I thought that I should probably be able to shoot up there examine the site and get myself back to London within a working day.

But in reality this was much more difficult than I had hoped which was a disappointing realisation.

The world has moved on considerably from my courting days, and with smartphones, biometric recognition systems etc one would imagine that it must surely be possible to conceive of a situation where you simply walk up and board a plane much as a National Express coach. The faffing around at either end of a domestic UK flight sucks the life out of what could be a real opportunity for this country by adding hours of uncertainty and waiting to any plans.

But if we could simplify this interface and improve city centre connections from the many small airports which we possess the UK could at a step become a much more accessible place. Given that the majority of cities in the UK sit within or around a 1 hour flight time, with frequent small planes we could properly link into the potential of northern metropolitan centres of skill/ excellence. 

Whilst clearly I am oversimplifying what is very likely a complex issue with many latent challenges I would like to think that there are many creative minds out there who kind find opportunity in this sort of scheme. Can we make it work? The gauntlet has been thrown down?

Gerry O’Brien is a partner at structural enginering specialist AKTII.


I remember that British Airways used to run what was almost a turn-up-and-go service between Heathrow and Manchester, Belfast and Edinburgh. I wonder whether the economics of the modern airline industry have put paid to that concept?
And that BA shuttle was in parallel with a British Midland one. Not cheap. I took to buying full fare tickets for the trip home because they guaranteed you a seat if you turned up for a flight on time. Of course, the guarantee wasn't that wonderful because if the plane was full it would take an hour to get a new one lined up (ie you would be put on the next one) but at least, at the end of the day you wouldn't be left behind. Also, BM and BA tickets were transferrable. When I was young and fit I once did 4 minutes from tube doors opening to push back including changing my ticket from BA to BM. If you tried to move that fast through Terminal 1 now you would oprobabkly be shot before you got 50 yards.
But it will still burn inexcusable quantities of fuel and get you from Edinburgh Runway to London stack in 50 minutes! The real journey is pretty much as quick by train now at 0.003 gallons per passenger mile.
Did you forget about climate change...? Encouraging short-haul aviation is surely just the most selfish thing you could promote.
And would you let 6 or 20 young Muslim men on board with no prior passport checks, and no baggage checks? The current process -wherever you fly - is to maintain highest security. That cannot be done with a walk-on service. The world has changed ........