The drones are coming!

In a recent blog post, Frank Gruber, among his arguments for SMO closure, allowed that:

There’s no question that the most appealing uses of the airport are the Angel’s Flight medical flights. But given that there are other airports nearby, and given the benefits of the great park that replace the airport, are they sufficient reason to keep the airport open?

It is true that this, as far as I can see, is the only plausible argument left in support of Santa Monica Airport’s continued existence.  But even this argument has flaws.  Now don’t get me wrong, the fact that these pilots donate their time and aircraft to ferrying people and organs around is worthy of nothing but praise, but this is the year 2014 and we have to take a fresh look even at this.

As we have all seen in the news, once the FAA gets out of its bureaucratic logjam, the use of drones to deliver packages directly to people’s houses is already in the works by the likes of FedEx, drug stores, Pizza chains, Amazon and many others.  How much more important and how much faster would it be to deliver organs and blood by drone.  The era of drone delivery of critical human organs direct to the hospitals that need them will be here in less than a couple of years – far sooner than all this squabbling over SMO will be sorted out.  We got this guys, the drones will do it.

A drone can deliver direct to the hospital itself, it would not get to SMO and then get stuck in grid-lock trying to get the vital organ out of Santa Monica to UCLA, USC, or wherever else it is going.

A drone is quieter, it uses less fuel, causes less pollution, can fly immediately any hour of the day or night.  The list of benefits is considerable, so we can be quite sure that within a couple of years, that is how all organs will be delivered.  Nothing else makes any sense in this day and age.

That just leaves the issue of flying financially distressed patients themselves.  If it is an emergency situation, other organizations deal with that, and Angel Flights specifically excludes emergency uses and I quote “We fly patients to and from scheduled medical treatment. Patients are required to be ambulatory (able to walk and get in and out of the aircraft with little to no assistance) and be medically stable.” So we are actually talking about people who are in what we might call a time-critical situation, not an emergency.  Flights are limited to less than 1,000 miles (because of the aircraft types involved).  Also on the Angel Flight West web site it states:

“We require at least one week to coordinate the flight once complete paperwork is received.”

So, if it takes a week or more to arrange, then of course, if it is important, the fastest way to get there is by a commercial flight if you can afford it, but some people may not be able to afford it and I suppose that is the niche that the service fills.

But lets be honest, if it takes a week or more to organize a flight, then adding 10 minutes to the flight time by going to Van Nuys is not a big deal.  But wait a minute, the flights are coming from the rest of the US, in other words inland, so that means Van Nuys and most other local airports are actually closer than Santa Monica, the flight time would be less.  So now the entire justification for SMO hangs on perhaps a difference of 15 minutes of road travel time for a person that is not in an emergency situation, and has waited over a week in any case for the flight.  Of course, nobody would time a flight to arrive just before their non-emergency appointment, that would be silly given the transportation mode, so they either come the night before or many hours earlier, just to be safe.  In other words 15 minutes of driving time is an irrelevance, it doesn’t matter much where they arrive – by definition this isn’t an emergency.

So we can see that when we examine this argument, while on the surface we are empathetic, the reality just doesn’t justify keeping SMO open.  Keep up the good work though, just do it from a nearby airport that makes more sense.

Let us all thank the amazing pilot volunteers of Angel Flight and similar for everything they have done, but the drones have got the organ/blood thing, and we can all plainly see that using your great work as a justification to keep SMO open makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.