Sunday, 1 April 2012

Systems thinking and air travel

Alastair Clayton, in a letter to The Times (London) reprinted in The Week magazine, makes a rather insightful observation that instead of building a third runway at Heathrow (a cypher for airport expansion generally) government should spend money making the process of clearing customs faster. (He is a non-EU passport holder).

In the abstract, this is an example of systems thinking. The system in transport should be seen as end-to-end. What time do I need to leave point A to get to point B by time T, and how do I do so most quickly? Mr Clayton says that clearing customs after a flight from Geneva to London can take longer than the flight itself. Optimising the rumway to runway component of air travel is optimising a subsystem. Optimising a subsystem can suboptimise a system.

Of course transport is itself a subsystem. Systems thinking inevitably leads to deciding what is the overall system of systems. For all practical purposes, the top-level system is human beings living sustainably on this planet and the test of any change or development is whether it meets human need better and more sustainably - a Resource Based Economy. So whether Mr Clayton's journeys are shotened by more rapid customs or more runways, we ned to look at what human need is being met by his journey, and how that human need may most sustainably be met.

With transport, the first place to look is electronic communications. How many airports, railway lines, motorways and vehicles could be saved by putting high speed video conferencing in every home and office.

No comments:

Post a Comment