Since Pearl Harbor, the development and extension of domestic commercial air transportation has necessarily been temporarily suspended except as to services considered vital to the war effort. However, air carriers, potential air carriers, aircraft manufacturers and trade associations, as well as Federal and state aviation authorities, airport managers and other interested persons, have given considerable thought to the future development of long- and short-haul air transportation in the United States. In some cases this interest already has taken the form of applications for certificates of public convenience and necessity authorizing new air routes. These applications are now pending before the Civil Aeronautics Board.
While chief emphasis has heretofore been placed upon the development of long-haul traffic between major centers, a proper development of a nation-wide air transportation system should make provision for service to small communities and between cities whose interests may be considered as largely local in character. In fact, by 1941, the need for development of local services had become increasingly apparent and although the war halted expansion in this field it certainly did not stop planning for the future.
To date considerable interest has been evinced in the pick-up type of short-haul service in which the aircraft uses a specially designed hook device to pick up mail and light cargo from small fields without the necessity of landing. At present there are 23 applications before the Board for certificates authorizing pick-up transportation operations, which propose to cover 29 states and 1,453 cities. The only pick-up service now operating is that of All American Aviation, Inc, which flies a 1,386-mile route extending into New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, and serves 115 cities. All American uses 245-hp Lycoming-powered Vultee (Stinson) Reliants adequately converted to pick-up service but primarily designed as an airplane for the industrial and sportsman pilot.
This company began operations May 12, 1939, as a mail carrier under contract with the Post Office Department, pursuant to the Experimental Air Mail Service Act of 1938. Later when the operation was certificated by the CAB under an amendment to the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, no authority to transport passengers was given because the carrier admitted that its service was experimental and that suitable types of aircraft adapted for combination passenger and pick-up and delivery operation were not yet available. The present operations of All American have advanced beyond the purely experimental stage but are still definitely in a period of development.
Technical development in pick-up operations has been directed largely to perfecting the actual pick-up device while the fundamental design of the aircraft itself has remained unchanged. Aircraft manufacturers planning for post-war commercial production can be expected to give consideration to a plane specifically designed for more efficient, economical pick-up operations. The extent to which this type of service will meet the public need for a local or feeder air service is one of the problems which must be considered by the CAB.
Another type of service which has "feeder" or local potentialities was inaugurated on July 6, 1939 when Eastern Air Lines began transporting mail from the Camden Airport, NJ, across the Delaware River to the rooftop of the Philadelphia post office building. Eastern operated this service with a Pitcairn autogiro, able to carry 250 pounds of mail. Although the service was discontinued it must be recognized as having contributed to the development of aviation and as an indication of what could be accomplished in the use of equipment of this general type.
Development of the helicopter, and other rotating wing aircraft, is now assuming increasing importance and the future use of such aircraft in local air transportation has great potentialities.
A more conventional method for meeting local air transportation needs is the ordinary airport-to-airport service, requiring landing to load and discharge traffic. The development of aircraft with low operating cost and capable of using small airports is of primary importance in such service.
Today the airline operations of the United States are mainly trunk lines which, prior to Pearl Harbor, covered some 41,000 route miles, stopping as a general rule at larger cities only. In contrast, our railroad system operates more than 244,263 of main line track miles and, with the bus operators, brings transportation service to thousands of small cities and towns that now are looking toward the skies.
In the past, operations over light traffic routes have in some instances been conducted with relatively small transport aircraft of correspondingly low per-mile operating cost. However, operators shifted to larger, more luxurious equipment in order to meet either competition or the pressure of public demand for the same type of planes used on the main trunk lines. Development of transport aircraft in the past has been focused principally on production of larger, faster, more luxurious types to meet the ever-mounting service needs of the great trunk lines. Consequently, the light traffic carriers have been generally forced to choose between outgrown “hand-me-downs" or planes of greater capacity than could be utilized. They have usually and quite understandably adopted the latter alternative. Their choice lay between obsolete and modern equipment.
The lack of modern aircraft scaled in size and speed to meet the typical traffic and airport limitations of small cities has been unfortunate. As the light traffic carriers replaced old equipment with new equipment, oversized for their needs, they sought upward adjustment in mail pay to meet the widening gap between operating cost and commercial revenues. Equipment replacements frequently have resulted in carriers being compelled to discontinue services to small communities on their routes because the new equipment could not safely land on or take off from the small airports.
While the CAB exercises a degree of control over the equipment used by a particular carrier through its power to fix mail compensation, this power is limited by the provisions of the Civil Aeronautics Act specifically prohibiting the Board from restricting the right of a carrier to add or change schedules, equipment, accommodations, or facilities as the development of its business and the demands of the public shall require. Thus, future development of local or feeder air transportation services may depend upon legislative sanctions which will enable the Board to so regulate these services that they will retain their identity as local or feeder services.
Twin-engined aircraft are now standard equipment on our domestic airlines and major air carriers were just beginning to fly four-engined equipment when the war intervened. Although our safety regulations, in general, require the use of multi-engined equipment, two pilots and two-way radio in passenger service, it appears appropriate to inquire as to whether single-engined aircraft operated by one pilot and without complete accessories could be used with safety in providing limited local passenger service to small communities. It should not be necessary to take the position that small communities shall have Pullman plane accommodations or none at all.
The single-engined Vultee, in which Maj (now Major General) James H Doolittle made a 12-hour transcontinental record in 1935, was used for some time by one of our major airlines.
In the United States we have not specialized in developing a short-range transport aircraft because we were first concerned with developing the long trunk line air routes that conquered the great distances of our continent. However, the time has now come to make plans for. the extension of air service to the nation as a whole including provision for local service to small communities.
Plans must be prepared and completed now so that post-war expansion of our domestic air transportation may be orderly and rapid. In a desire to be fore-handed in this matter, the CAB by order dated March 22, 1943, instituted an investigation of "local-feeder-pick-up" air service which will result in a study of the methods and feasibility of providing air service to the hundreds of small communities which have insufficient traffic potential to support the conventional types of operation presently conducted by the scheduled air carriers or which lack airports of sufficient size for the heavier types of transport aircraft. By its order the Board expects to give leaders in American aviation an opportunity to come together and contribute their experience to a coordinated planning for this local development. It is expected that the CAB's investigation will open such questions as the extent to which air service would furnish smaller communities with a useful and economically justifiable service, methods of operation, types of flight equipment necessary, airports and other facilities required, the amount of financial support by the Government which is justified for such service, proper means of assuring that such service shall maintain its local-service character, and, in general conditions upon which authorizations may be granted.
One of the most important factors in such development after the war will be the tremendous pool of military trained aviation personnel available. It is our duty to plan now for this development. With the cooperation of the entire aviation industry we then will have materially contributed to and carried out the provisions of the Civil Aeronautics Act which charges the Board with the "encouragement and development of an air transportation system properly adapted to the present and future needs of the foreign and domestic commerce of the United States, of the Postal Service, and of the national defense."
L Welch Pogue
This column was originally published in the June, 1943, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 32, no 6, pp 42, 170.
The original column includes a thumbnail portrait of the author.
Photo is not credited.