Where would globe-trotting pundit Thomas Friedman be without jet fuel?
Once a sensible voice of free markets and their resulting “flat world,” the New York Times columnist has since swallowed the green Kool-Aid in one gulp and become a pulpit-pounding member of the Gore cult. After a five-month sabbatical to add one more tome to the never-ending library of climate-scare literature (his is called “Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America”), Freidman has returned to his column to pick up right where he left off: lecturing President Bush for the umpteenth time for “not buckling down to break our oil addiction.”
But oil is an economic necessity, not an addiction, as Friedman himself inadvertently reveals three graphs later when he tells how he and his wife “flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore” – on a jet plane gulping 3,000 gallons of fuel an hour.
Global commerce – the flat world – runs on carbon jet fuel. It is a necessity not only for Friedman’s journalistic junkets, but for commercial transport, multi-national salesmen, etc.
In an interview with The Detroit News editorial board last month, the CEOs of Delta and Northwest came to brief us on their proposed merger. I asked Delta CEO Richard Anderson if he was impressed by Virgin Airlines — run by PR-savvy Richard Branson — recently demonstrating a biofuel jet engine.
There were barely contained snickers from Anderson’s staff when I mentioned Branson’s name – he is a notorious showboat; but Anderson answered diplomatically:
“We won’t see biofuels in existing engines,” he said matter-of-factly. “Besides, do you know how we get our fuel? All aviation fuel moves by pipeline” (a major biofuel drawback, because it must move by truck).
That isn’t to say that airlines aren’t energy efficient, however. They are extremely fuel conscious – but not because they are converts to Friedman’s religion. Fuel has always been a major business cost and so airlines are constantly investing in new planes to keep costs down. In the last eight years alone, for example – even as Delta’s fleet number has remained stable – the airline cut its fuel bill by 25 percent.
But increased air travel – growing at 7 percent a year internationally – has more than made up for that efficiency gain in total fuel consumption. Gear-driven fans herald a new generation of jet turbines, predicts Anderson, bringing more savings — but the fuel will remain petroleum-based.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Friedman is the nation’s #2 “most influential business thinker,” behind management guru Gary Hamel and ahead of Bill Gates. Those in the airline business might dispute that.