There is a great stagnation

Singapore Airlines Ltd. (SIA) will end non-stop services to Newark, the world’s longest commercial flight, next year as it phases out the aging planes used on the route.

The all-business-class flights will end in the fourth- quarter of next year, along with similar services to Los Angeles, the airline said in a statement yesterday, as it announced an order for 25 Airbus SAS aircraft. The Toulouse- based planemaker will acquire the five four-engine A340-500s used on the non-stop routes as part of the deal.

The end of the almost 19-hour service to Newark will lengthen Singapore travelers’ trip by more than three hours as they will have to change planes in London.

Here is more, and note that the new aircraft are designed to serve the budget market in the future.


I took the flight twice, in 2006 and 2007 in executive economy. They were really great flight experiences, I watched several movies, had about four meals, and took several naps. It was service like what those old airline posters used to advertise.

The problem with these flights is that they burn through fuel like crazy because carrying 19 hours worth of fuel makes the plane much heavier which requires yet more fuel, etc. As the article notes, "Singapore Air is canceling the non-stop services, which started in 2004, as it phases out older aircraft following a more than 30 percent jump in fuel prices over two years."

Breaking the journey up can save on fuel costs. If this is evidence of "stagnation," the relevant part of the economy to look for the stagnation is in petroleum extraction and/or the failure to find cheaper alternatives.

I came to the comment section to say this. Note that on a meta level, there's nothing stagnant about firms responding to market pressures.

On the meta level, petroleum extraction and alternative energy sources are more important to determining whether there's any stagnation. Firms can respond to market pressures in a stagnant or near stagnant economy. We know this because there are many such economies in the world today and in the recent past, whether or not you include the U.S.

With drone technology it should be cheap and efficient to simply re-fuel planes in air using periodic small payloads. You could efficient send jet fuel to various Pacific islands using cheap ships. Only load the plane with say 1/10 the amount of fuel it needs so it doesn't have to carry much weight. Then just keep re-fueling along the way using your drones.

This would pretty much be impossible for any commercial airline to do because of 1) the regulation on civilian drone use, 2) huge regulatory hurdles to mid-air refueling for civil aircraft, and 3) the FAA is never going to allow flights to leave without enough fuel to arrive at their destination.

Once again the Great Stagnation comes down to excessive regulation and overcaution.

Yep. And which voting block is most prone to increasing regulation, to the precautionary principle, and to overcaution for the sake of expressing care in the abstract, long-term consequences be damned?

The answer is closely linked with the constant discussion of gender gaps in American politics. New technologies are incompatible with voters who are risk adverse. It happens that men are less risk adverse than women.

Indeed. Such foolish genders.
I'm sure these regulations have nothing to do with the idea that using drones for fueling 1/10th of a flight, and not carrying enough fuel to get to a destination, would never run into problems in difficult weather or storm conditions.
And that the military does not use these drones because, as a culture that is primarily feminine, would never implement such a system.
Or maybe the technology isn't even developed to the point to make such a system for intercontinental flight conceivable, much less safe, practical, and a better economic solution to just fueling the plane on the ground.

> implying that aerial refueling using drones won't happen because of female suffrage

I thought I'd seen everything that the MensRights-o-sphere could produce, but you've managed to surprise me.

Would running these refueling drones actually save fuel compared to simply landing and refueling? Each drone would have to spend fuel to get up to 30,000 feet and to match the passenger aircraft's cruising velocity. Does this really save money and fuel compared to simply adding a stopover on the passenger aircraft's route?

Moreover, if the FAA is the problem, there is nothing stopping non-U.S. carriers on non-U.S. routes from experimenting with this.

Drone technology, you say? You think manned piloting and crewing is the barrier to efficiently lifting a tanker of fuel 30,000 feet and transferring it?

The problem with these flights is that they burn through fuel like crazy because carrying 19 hours worth of fuel makes the plane much heavier which requires yet more fuel, etc.

But non-stop flight distances have been increasing, so I doubt that's an important factor. I think the main problem with this particular flight is that the A340, which Singapore uses on the route, just isn't a very economical aircraft. All the new widebodies except the A380 have only two engines. More fuel efficient and lower maintenance costs. Twin-engine widebodies also killed off the tri-jets (DC10/MD11/L1011).

A critical point in this discussion is recent changes in rules about ETOPS (Extended range Twin Operations). Till recently there were still routes on the globe hard to do in a twin engine because of the 180 min. diversion airport requirement.

With ETOPS-240 and beyond now being permitted the globe can almost be fully mapped with a twin engine.

Regulatory changes indeed, but in a positive way......

ETOPS = "engines turn-on or passengers swim"

I wonder if the eventual deployment of 787s and the like will make really long routes viable again. Fuel prices are going nowhere but up in the long run, so plastic planes like the 787 and eventual EADS equivalents should become viable in time.

The actual stagnation is that people still feel the need to travel to SIngapore on business. Who wants to sit on a plane for 18 hours?

Me, if I'm in Singapore after that 18 hours! Even the close to 24 hour total travel time to get to Maputo last year was worth it. Some things are still best done face to face and besides that I tremendously enjoy going new places and meeting new people.

This is where I'm at.... the increase in an alternate technology (virtual telepresence) has reduced the demand and cost effectiveness of flying 19hrs at a go as a luxury item. There just aren't enough people willing to pay the cost anymore.

For any questions that you have reigndarg interchangeable parts and which parts will fit which different vehicles, talk to the folks at your local wrecking yard.Most wrecking yards are networked with many others across the U.S. and can order most any part you need. They can usually have the part for you within a couple days.

Isn't this as likely to reflect substitution to technological innovation such as teleconferencing and email that has reduced the demand for 19-hour business-class flights, with higher fuel costs/passenger to handle the inefficiencies of a 19-hour flight (as Ricardo mentions above)? If so, then not necessarily evidence for stagnation. (After all, if a commercially feasible Star Trek transporter were invented tomorrow, this would also end Singapore-Newark flights, but it wouldn't be stagnation.)

What's Airbus going to end up doing to those planes?

Lease them to airlines in poor countries like mine. Lots of 20-30 year old planes are still in use in poor countries around the world.

Not sure this is stagnation, but it is frustration. Just took SingAir flight last month out of Newark, I really rely on it. Costs a fortune, but it is worth it. I think that is the key. Huge time saver from a business perspective (3 hour layovers are problematic on 13 hour flights, they just don't land on time). I work for a tech firm, but you still have to show up for speeches, customer meetings, supplier meetings. This is a pretty big loss for the NY area. I would bet they could raise the prices and people would still pay it. Is that the "stagnation" part?

(I am typing this from an A380 flight direct Dubai to JFK, after having just finished NY direct to Sing, back to NY, then direct to Jo'burg, then back to NY. It does sometimes have to be that way).

The first possibility is simply that fuel costs have risen faster than people's willingness to pay for non-stop flights. You can just as easily blame that on economic growth in China as on stagnation in the petroleum extraction and airplane engineering sectors.

Another possibility is simply that there isn't enough market for these non-stop flights even setting aside rising fuel costs. The Bloomberg article noted that passenger loads on the LAX and Newark flights were below other routes so the company appears to have made a rather simple business decision to cut them. Many factors may be behind this relative lack of demand so it seems a bit premature to blame it on "stagnation." For instance, Singapore Airlines will now stop in Tokyo on the way to LAX -- maybe they realize they can squeeze a lot more money out of this route by selling tickets for SingaporeTokyo and TokyoLAX. It's not as if there aren't plenty of other flights running non-stop between East Asia and LAX or SFO.

Finally, I don't know much about airplanes but Cathay Pacific is still running its non-stop HKG-JFK flight using a Boeing 777. The Wikipedia article on Boeing 777 points out that it is a relatively fuel-efficient aircraft and that one extended range model once completed a non-stop flight from Hong Kong to London going eastward. So it's not as if we are losing the capability to run non-stop flights. The problem appears to be simply fuel costs and consumer demand.

In fairness, this move isn't telling about the overall economy. While there may have been some irrational exuberance in the decision to fly the routes initially, the aircraft doesn't just burn fuel at a high rate (so much fuel that they burn tons of fuel to carry the fuel needed for the flights) but burns fuel at a higher rate than anticipated by the manufacturer.

With fuel prices far higher than expected when the planes went into service, the economics of the plane just don't work out and especially don't work out on the ultra-long haul routes that the planes are intended for. You only get a single flight a day out of each aircraft, which is expensive to operate, the yields that would be necessary to make the flights work are just unachievable almost regardless of economic circumstance.

And Singapore managed to unload the aircraft back on the manufacturer as part of a deal for new aircraft, they're out from underneath a money-loser that would have been a money loser under almost any scenario once the actual operating costs (vs projected operating costs) came to be known through flight experience.

People keep missing the big picture. The point is not that these aren't rational local moves. The point is that technology hasn't dramatically improved so that planes which are much more than incrementally better than 747s of 30 odd years ago are available to cheaply fly tons of passengers directly and quickly from point to point. No matter how you measure it, improvement in terms of speed to get from point A to point B hasn't moved much in 3 decades. Kinda like how it's not a lot faster to travel from DC to Boston than 3 decades ago whether by car, train, or plane.

In contrast the changes from 1940 to 1970 were stunning.

Aircraft speed may not have improved much in 3 decades but almost everything else has;

-Aircraft are on average 70% more fuel efficient
-Aircraft are MUCH quieter
-Aircraft have much better navigation allowing more efficient routing and more aircraft in the same airspace.
-Better communication with ATC over remote areas
-Improved safety equipment and training steadily reducing the accident rate

Of course the passenger experience has declined somewhat but that started with deregulation.

"passenger experience has declined"

Not in per dollar basis I bet. How much was an NYC-LA ticket in 1970 (in 2012 $)?

Since there is no price at which a business class traveler can get as good a travel experience in both a commercial airplane AND the airport as in 1975 and must increasingly put up with longer travel times (e.g. Singapore plus all the other airlines that have cancelled direct flights to various cities making travel much harder) I would say this is very much a relative issue of weighted gains. And again, it's evidence of TGS since extremely rapid growth would make virtually everyone better off (Compare televisions today to color tv in 1970 for a clearer example of no stagnation). It's NOT enough to say some things have gotten better. That merely proves Tyler's point about TGS.

Since there is no price at which a business class traveler can get as good a travel experience in both a commercial airplane AND the airport as in 1975

How many business class travelers in 1975 had seats that converted into lie-flat beds on long flights? Personal video screens with choices of dozens of movies? There was no wifi or internet on planes in 1975. I suspect the quality and variety of food and wine available to business class passengers has also improved significantly. It certainly has in first class. First class passengers can now also get mini-suites and showers on large planes and long flights. Did any planes at all have those things in 1975? And all modern planes are quieter, safer, more reliable and more comfortable for passengers in all classes than planes were in 1975. The newest planes also feature things like significantly bigger windows and better air quality (higher pressurization and humidity), which can make a huge difference to passenger comfort and well-being on long flights.

And since there are many more flights and routes now than there were in 1975, including many more direct flights, the travel experience involves less waiting around. You're much more likely to be able to find a flight that departs when you want it to than you were 30 or 40 years ago.

But are those gains in the same neighborhood as 80%+ reductions in travel time? If improvements in service mattered more than speed, we'd all be travelling on the Queen Mary rather than cramming into a jet. Yes, flying is in many ways more convenient. No arguments there. But is going from reading a book to watching a TV really the same as going from week-long journeys to hours?

So, fancy bullet trains are no stagnation, while the homely, dated, profitable US rail system shows all the earmarks of stagnation?

I'm with the 'Boudreaux critique' on this. The hallmark of freedom are the invisible, incremental, relentless improvements- no stagnation yet.

But are those gains in the same neighborhood as 80%+ reductions in travel time?

No, they're much larger, in part because vastly more people have benefited from them than benefited from the travel time reductions between 1920 and 1970 to which you erroneously attach so much significance. You seem to think all that matters is changes in what's technically possible or available, regardless of how many people are actually able to use it.

Exactly. People keep coming up with rebuttals to TGS that amount to "But planes are 10% [or whatever] lighter!" or "There's Wi-Fi on planes now, how can you see there is stagnation!" But you're right, compare 1930-70 to 1970-2010 and the stagnation is really obvious.

If there really wasn't stagnation, we'd be using things like vactrains now, that's the kind of technological progress that was really happening when railroads or airplanes were invented. And as far as I know, the proposed new technologies may be physically impossible. But that's kind of the point.

But why is the failure to get Singapore-New York flights below 19 hours evidence of stagnation while WiFi on planes, e-ticketing, improved safety measures are not a rebuttal?

As I read Tyler, the point he is making in "The Great Stagnation" is that the technological innovations of today are not creating jobs or leading to massive improvements in living standards in the same way that those of previous generations did. Suppose Singapore-New York commercial flying time was cut to 12 hours. How, exactly, would that be a revolutionary change in most people's lives greater than e-ticketing, WiFi on planes, etc.?

In fact, I bet the SR-71 could have made it in less than 12 hours. For that matter, the space tourism companies that are starting up could start launching people in rockets and make the journey in less than 2 hours. The technology is there; the problem is that nobody really cares enough to shorten flying time by a few hours to justify the enormous cost of doing so aside from the handful of rich thrill-seekers who might ride on a future Virgin Galactic rocket to make the trip.

It's a rebuttal against the idea that there has been zero growth. But that's not the point of TGS, and not something that Tyler has ever claimed. But what we stagnationists have been trying to argue is that the magnitude of improvement from more recent events is less than from earlier ones. And that . . . seems just true, almost indisputably so. Does anyone seriously want to disagree? From 1920 to 1970 we went from multiple day steamship trips across to the Atlantic to maybe ten hours. E-ticketing just isn't in the same ballpark, and I'm honestly bewildered people would contest that. Let's say the time to travel the Atlantic was cut by a factor of five from 1920 to 1970. Given that kind of progress, a trip from NYC to Heathrow would be about 1.5 hours now. And WiFi is supposed to make up for that?

Moreover, it won't do to say "Yes, the technology exists but is too expensive" or "resource constraints are what matters, if it weren't for those we'd see progress". For technology to matter in living standards, which is what TGS is about, it has to be actually used. Moreover, many of the ardent deniers of stagnation are also people who claim resource constraints are irrelevant.

(BTW, it is not a rebuttal to claim that the stagnation goes away if you consider CPI bias against improvements, unless you have a clear story why improvements like running water, railroads, and airplanes would not ALSO have been undercounted.)

From 1920 to 1970 we went from multiple day steamship trips across to the Atlantic to maybe ten hours. E-ticketing just isn’t in the same ballpark, and I’m honestly bewildered people would contest that. Let’s say the time to travel the Atlantic was cut by a factor of five from 1920 to 1970.

But you're ignoring price. How many people could AFFORD to fly across the Atlantic in 1970? The real price of air travel has declined dramatically over the past 40 years. Many more people can afford to fly much more often. That one change represents a huge increase in wealth.

Similarly, you dismiss e-tickets but in fact computerization and communication have also produced enormous benefits. Comparison shopping of flights and fares, ticket purchase, seat selection and check-in can now all easily be done online. That's a huge increase in convenience and time saving.

Price improvements get you growth. They don't get the same rate of growth as we had before. That's what Tyler is talking about, and that's what matters. If you can show me that prices were somehow stable between 1920 and 1970, then you'd have a point: We got much faster service but prices didn't change. But what I very strongly suspect is the case is that from 1920 to 1970 prices plummeted AND the actual product improved. Now, not as much.

That's why I said CPI bias, while a real thing, simply is not an argument against TGS. You need to show that somehow from 1920 to 1970 the supposed countereffects (better service, record-keeping, price, etc.) were NOT happening (or were less). "Stagnation" was probably an unfortunate word choice, because it conjures up rebuttals which don't work. When you propose your reason stagnation isn't real, check and make sure that it wasn't also a factor before TGS as well.

Price improvements get you growth. They don’t get the same rate of growth as we had before.

Depends on the price improvement. You haven't presented any information about rates of growth in transatlantic air travel before and after 1970. All you've observed is that for the wealthy few who could afford to fly across the atlantic in 1970, transatlantic travel was much faster than it had been 50 years earlier.

But even if the rate of growth did slow after 1970, that doesn't mean the increase in wealth slowed. If air travel triples over ten years from 1 million passengers to 3 million, that's 2 million additional passengers who get the benefit. If the growth rate then slows over the following ten years and the number of passengers only doubles rather than triples, it would still add 3 million additional passengers. The second decade had a slower growth rate, but it still produced a greater increase in wealth.

The second decade had a slower growth rate

Congratulations! You're a stagnationist.

I'm have trouble finding international travel statistics over time over time, and I'm open to correction if someone has them, but for the hundredth time, if you're going to refute TGS, you MUST MUST MUST point to a factor that wasn't operating during the time when there WASN'T (supposedly) stagnation. And the mechanism you allege here to get around stagnation ABSOLUTELY was happening during 1920-70. So it simply, as a matter of logic, is NOT a refutation of stagnation. Isn't that obvious to everyone by now? It's simply true. Stagnation is controversial, but how to successfully argue against it shouldn't be.

Congratulations! You’re a stagnationist

You're obviously free to call me what you like, but it doesn't make any sense to describe a larger increase in wealth as "stagnation."

Note: traveling across the country or internationally has gotten *slower* over the past thirty years.

Note: traveling across the country or internationally has gotten *slower* over the past thirty years.

Has it? Actual flight times may have increased marginally, but there are many more choices of routes and departure times, and many more direct flights. So people spend less time waiting at home or in hotels or airports for their flight to leave. Planes are more reliable, so there's less chance of delays due to mechanical problems.

I would guess that Singapore-Newark is primarily a business route, not for tourism. Online meeting technology has likely disrupted much of the reason for making this trip. The financiers on these flights don't need to be face to face as much, and when they do travel it's more likely to the place where the capital is being deployed.

What on earth are you talking about? This is a simple case of rising fuel costs and an aging, inefficient fleet. Air travel between the United States and Asia is at record highs, and projected to keep growing.

But we aren't innovating new or faster ways to get from A to B. We're actually going in reverse.

Brock, that's only because (responding to market forces), Boeing and Airbus are instead prioritizing fuel efficency. Before Boeing began constructing the Dreamliner, more than a decade ago, it was deciding whether to make a significantly faster plane, or a significantly less energy-intensive one. Fuel considerations won out, and we got the 787.

There is no stagnation in aviation - just a prioritization of going "green" over going fast.

I took this flight back in 2010 for work. We went out across Europe and India going to Singapore and flew home via the Pacific and Canada. It's so incredibly far, the decision on which way to fly was entirely wind dependent--(which implies fuel criticality). It's true, the A340-500 is in a configuration that is basically gas tanker w. a few nice passenger seats.

My guess is it came down to passenger load factors versus fuel expense for the route. When I took it, it was half empty...what a way to fly. Incredible service, but am not thinking SA was making any money.

story about US facing reduced weather data:

classic great stagnation.

Comments for this post are closed