I went to a mining conference where I heard a business plan for an “outside the box” project. While I do believe that plan was never implemented, it was inspiring not because it was practical, but because it pushed the envelope of what can be done. When times are tough, inspiration for what to do next comes from unexpected sources.
Consider this business plan only as a muse, based on the possibility that oil prices will increase substantially in the future and a Covid vaccine will emerge.
Alaska Airlines obtains a low interest loan under a government subsidy program and buys 10 or 20 Airbus A380, super jumbo planes, which are available right now for pennies on the dollar of the original cost. These planes can fit up to 853 passengers but require difficult unloading facilities. The airlines would have to jury-rig temporary unloading structures to use the planes. If the planes are full, though, the cost per passenger mile can be reduced, especially under a high oil price scenario.
Now instead of keeping to the traditional model of using its new fleet to ferry vacationers between the Lower 48 and Alaska, the company thinks bigger. Make a world travel hub in Fairbanks like you have in Reykjavik, Iceland. After all, intercontinental travel will still be wanted as the world economy recovers, but air travel may be very expensive. The purpose would be to spot-shuffle between continents for bus, train or caravan travel onward. Thus, Alaska would become a hub between continents and allow for overnight or longer stays in the Golden Heart, allowing travelers to take quick outdoor excursions while on layover.
Instead of creating connections to major cities, though, the connections are between continents, so to save on costs, use minor cities that are relatively central to a number of destinations. Rather than connecting in L.A., New York City, or Toronto, you go to New London, Winslow and Veracruz. Instead of Tokyo, Beijing or Mumbai, you go to Nursultan, Phnom Penh or Bali. In Europe skip London, Paris and Rome for Pisa, Geneva and Krakow; in Latin America don’t hit Rio, Buenos Aires or Bogota meet Brasilia, La Paz and Panama. For the Middle East and Africa instead of Cairo, Dubai and Casablanca, you go to Kenya, Lagos and Beirut. Yes, Beirut! Now is the perfect time to make a deal there.
The idea is that once you land in say Winslow, Arizona, you can take buses, trains, or other shuttles to California, Colorado and the Grand Canyon. That way you are close enough in each continent to hitch a cheap ride further on to your destination. But you still get there relatively quickly even if it is not on a direct flight to and from where you leave and where your destination is.
Plus, in Winslow you have a place to park unused planes in a dry hot climate to preserve the planes better and for maintenance purposes. Yah, it is just a pipe dream for those of us in cities like Fairbanks, after all some of those connections are longer, but if you put in place the right system, it could be cheaper and more exotic. Nevertheless, you may have a dream of your own that may or may not work, and that dream may create the seed of a practical idea that will work.
When President Eisenhower planned the U.S. interstate highway system, it was considered impossible to put a highway through the continental divide in Colorado. With better technology, however, the Eisenhower tunnel was built as a four lane, two-tunnel highway, which can accommodate almost any size truck.
While hazardous loads must exit and drive over an alternate route, most cars and trucks zoom through with nary a curve. And if a large truck or even a car within the tunnel does crash or turn over, there is a mechanized crane inside the tunnel to carry the truck out so that the crash will not block up the tunnel. Also on the steep highway before and after the tunnel are side of the road runaway truck ramps that gouge into the hillsides with loose gravel beds to stop any large speeding vehicle quickly in its tracks.
Sometimes business is about practical numbers, training and smiling, but sometimes it’s about imagination, pushing the envelope and doing what nobody else thought could ever be done. Instead of making lemonade out of lemons, make a yellow snowman with lemon peel and lighted sparkles.
Dr. Douglas B. Reynolds is a professor of economics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Management. He can be contacted at DBReynolds@Alaska.Edu. This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Community and Technical College department of Applied Business and Accounting.