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Bushnell: digital reality vs physical travel; Flatley: financial planning for pilots.

Dennis Bushnell
Chief Scientist
NASA Langley Research Center


Digital reality vs air travel

Digital reality (DR) began with the telegraph, then it progressed to the telephone, and has been enhanced with audiovisual capabilities built into computers and smartphones.

Nearer-term developments of DR include augmented reality and advanced virtual reality (VR), and it’s headed toward 5-senses VR and holographic projection. Going forward, with the availability of ever greater bandwidth and direct machine-to-brain communications, DR is projected to be as good as physical reality – if not better.

Even current DR technology provides the critical body language aspects of human communication. Compared to physical travel, DR yields large cost reductions, time savings, and improved use of time (eg, many locations can be visited in a single day, thus increasing productivity).

This will also reduce adverse impacts on climate and ecosystems, as well as optimizing appointment schedules with widely-situated teams, resulting in lower stress levels.

Digital reality interactions are becoming very effective. With immersive presence, physical travel may be deemed unnecessary.

On a personal level, benefits of DR include the ability to reach any location that’s connected to the Internet without being absent from family; affordable travel/entertainment experiences for all, on their personal schedule, including the infirm and the young.

And on a societal level, DR enables the expansion of the huge ongoing social shift started some 25 years ago with the World Wide Web into the virtual age with tele-everything, including telecommuting, shopping, education, medicine, socialization, commerce, etc.

Also, DR is healthier as regards diet and sleep, and it provides the required social distancing for reducing the spread of pandemics. DR has been a global economy saver during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the airborne nature of the virus transmission makes it even more essential.

The response to this crisis needed a massive shift from physical to virtual travel/interactions, and DR has accelerated this process. Organizations such as the US DOD, whose previous stance was not favorable to tele-operations, have been forced to shift to DR, and have concluded that the move has gone surprisingly well.

The shift to DR has had a negative effect on air travel. The extent to which DR technology will affect passenger demand for air travel going forward is unknown, but there are indications that aircraft production and physical travel will take years to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

The apparent reaction of the air carriers to the Covid-19 downturn has been to re-examine their fleet composition, perhaps cull less efficient machines, and plan purchases of newer aircraft. One approach to projecting post-pandemic air traffic demand is to consider to what extent air travel can match or counter the benefits of DR, and the unique aspects of physical travel that DR cannot provide.

Air passengers travel for business and/or leisure. Although business travelers are a smaller percentage, they generally pay higher fares, so they represent more income for air carriers. As for the leisure pax segment, even before Covid-19 there was a virtual travel industry which has expanded during the pandemic.

This industry provides virtual traveling adventures which are not physically possible, including travel to historical places that have been inaccessible so far. This virtual tourism industry has shown good growth/success, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Similar success has been observed with virtual business conferences, with many more attendees, and no venue scheduling or cost issues. DR has long been used for families to keep in touch, and, thus far, there are no apparent major downsides associated with this technology for specific purposes such as business or tourism travel.

So, what are the downsides of DR travel that would help sustain physical air travel? The usual issue cited revolves around socialization, meeting new people, experiencing them in their environment, and pressing the flesh.

In fact, at conferences, it is a truism that more is learned outside the conference hall than within it. Connected with these aspects is the ongoing shift to virtual/tele-everything, wherein newer generations growing up with DR are learning how to use it to improve socialization.

University professors typically conduct research with peers and coworkers worldwide without much physical contact thanks to DR, and virtual conferences enable networking that appears to be satisfactory.

All that said, most still say that they need to do the trip for the handshake. To what extent that would counter the benefits of DR travel is yet to be determined, especially as DR shifts to immersive presence with VR and holography.

These technologies will eventually occur via direct brain-to-machine communications. Even current VR devices are extremely realistic. I have given virtual lectures in Asian countries successfully, saving the time and expenses required to complete such a trip.

Considering what the airline industry can do to counter the DR benefits discussed herein, the extent to which they can do so is not major. To try and counter the time savings, they could use faster aircraft, but DR technology operates instantly, so even if supersonic transports could be made emissionless and inexpensively, they wouldn’t match DR connectivity speeds.

There is a set of technologies that could, in time, reduce costs and emissions greatly, including aircraft autonomy (saving on crew costs), better lift-to-drag ratios, improved materials via nanoprinting for superb microstructure, and more efficient electric propulsion and energy sources.

However, even these aircraft technologies would not reduce costs enough to compete with DR, although they would become almost emissionless. Even with very advanced technologies, physical air travel cannot compete with the major benefits of DR.

The major adverse econometric changes caused by Covid-19 will accentuate the importance of the huge cost/time savings of DR. We started out traveling across the country on horseback, then trains, and then aircraft – each form with a major speed advantage over its predecessor. And now we are switching to digital immersive presence.

Joshua Flatley,
CFP, MBA Managing Member
X Vector


Prosperity through crisis

By the time you read this, many pilots will have been downgraded, displaced, furloughed, or even fired because of the pandemic. While unfortunate, this is temporary, as things will return to normal eventually.

However, many now face a challenge of financial insecurity. If you are in this situation, you know that it is uncomfortable and creates a sense of vulnerability. There are some in the financial services industry who, while well-intentioned, will try to convince you to pay for their services to assist in bridging this crisis.

Don’t do it! You are a professionally trained pilot, capable of dealing with the unexpected. Proceed the same way the US Air Force teaches pilots to survive emergencies – maintain aircraft control, analyze the situation, take the appropriate action.

Maintain aircraft control. In financial planning terms, this means taking care of the basics – food, shelter, clothing, utilities, and transportation. You may need to lean the mixture a bit by cutting frivolous expenditures or delaying purchase of big-ticket items.

Get on oxygen; take care of your health. This may be a great opportunity to try recipes in that new cookbook, take the dogs on the long walks they’ve been begging for, and try out a lifestyle that might be prohibitive due to your schedule as a professional pilot.

And yes, moderate alcohol consumption. Analyze the situation. Begin with the immediate action items above, then get started setting your finances on the best glidepath. Scrutinize your income and spending by utilizing a zero-budget system.

Give every dollar a job. There are no- or low-cost apps available that actually make it fun… and a little bit addictive. Next, assess what options are available to extend that glidepath. If you had a large emergency fund before the Covid-19 crisis, great! If not, don’t fret – just review all available resources.

Your employer may have offered a severance or aid package and may allow access to retirement savings. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has reduced or eliminated some of the penalties associated with premature withdrawals.

Even if forced to walk away from the flight deck temporarily, don’t walk away from your financial future.

You may be able to access equity in real estate through use of a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) loan. Depending on your unique circumstance, you may also be eligible for unemployment insurance or pandemic unemployment assistance.

Take the appropriate action. Fight. You are likely aware of the fly, fight, or freeze defense response mechanism of our brains to threats or challenges. You cannot run away from this reality. You’ve surveyed your circumstance, but do not succumb to analysis paralysis.

The only thing you can do is to fight through this temporary setback. Adopt a siege mindset. No one knows how long this downturn will last, but it’s better to anticipate an extended period and be pleasantly surprised if wrong.

That said, optimism is crucial to include lots of emotional support from family and friends. Use your wingmen. Plug into support systems available through faith-based organizations, positive social media groups, and any number of pilot networks.

Remember, the wingman concept provides for mutual support, so give back as you are able when someone asks for help. Attempt a restart. It’s time to dust off the résumé, and perhaps refresh some rusty interview skills through role-play and rehearsals.

This may require a career pivot. You have unique competences that are readily transferable into many fields. Don’t limit your search to the same job from which you were recently displaced, as this may be an opportunity.

Perhaps you can convert that side-hustle hobby into a profitable venture. If you’ve maintained your CFI, perhaps you’ll go back to instructing. Don’t let pride get in the way of your fight through this.

The world is in a bad way right now. You have 2 choices – accept it, or take this crisis to a logical conclusion. When flying with an engine shut down, it is difficult to see past just getting the bird on the ground safely.

You may need to do some of that pilot stuff to get to the other side, but you’ve been trained for this. Blue skies are ahead!