This week’s In Business covered the fascinating industry of air taxis. An air taxi is exactly what the name suggests: an airplane that takes you where you want to go, when you want to go. Now clearly the infrastructure required for air taxis is a bit more expensive than that for a normal taxi, so answering the question “how do you make money?” is quite involved. The best answer was provided by DayJet. Essentially they run a massive constraint solving system, juggling aircraft, airports, and travellers, and they charge you by how difficult you make the constraints. If you demand to travel in a small window of time it is going to be difficult for them to find other passengers for the plane, so you pay more. If you don’t particularly care when you travel, or how long the journey takes, then they might be able to fill the plane, or make a detour to pick up other customers. Hence you pay less. This is an elegant solution to a difficult problem, and I’m struck that this is the type of solution, indeed the type of industry, that can only exist because of information technology. Even five years ago I doubt computer power was cheap enough to make this feasible.
Now just don’t get me started about the environmental problems air taxis would cause. That’s a problem there is no easy or elegant solution for.