Publications

- May 1, 2019: Vol. 6, Number 5

Changing definition of first-class flying: Also, floating cities, farm tech, vanishing parking lots and lasers

by Mike Consol

You might have noticed first-class seats are disappearing on U.S. airliners. Turns out business people and leisure travelers looking for first-class treatment have discovered private jets — such as VistaJet and Berkshire Hathaway-owned NetJets — are the way to go, for a host of reasons:

  • Private jets are becoming less expensive.
  • Private fliers move through security far more quickly than commercial fliers.
  • There are 10 times more U.S. airports that accommodate private jets — also referred to as executive jets — than are available for large commercial planes.
  • Private-jet booking services simplify making reservations.

A decade ago, hundreds of long-haul commercial flights offered first-class seating, compared with only about 20 currently. Airline analysts are forecasting first-class will soon disappear entirely.

DO YOU SEA WHAT I SEA? With sea levels on the rise and threatening to displace an estimated 2.4 billion people living in low-lying and coastal cities and regions, even skeptics might have to revisit the notion of floating cities. The Seasteading Institute, backed by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, has been on the case for a decade or more, and is working on a pilot city with its own government and cryptocurrency. Also, entrepreneur Marc Collins Chen, who became the minister of tourism in his native French Polynesia, discovered rising sea levels are poised to submerge one-third of French Polynesia’s islands by as early as 2035. Chen’s solution? He started a company in 2018 named Oceanix that plans to build the offshore urban infrastructure needed to help people contend with rising seas, floods and extreme storms. Interestingly, floating cities are far from a novel concept. The Aztecs toyed with the idea, and architect Buckminster Fuller planned a floating city in the 1960s. There are also floating neighborhoods in the Netherlands and then, of course, there is Venice, Italy. A bit early for investors to think of waterborne cities as a new asset class, but they have certainly moved out of the realm of fantasy.

FROM TECH FIELD TO FARM FIELD: A new report shows how U.S. farmers — facing a surge of weather events and disease outbreaks — can increase production and revenues with innovations produced by federally-funded agricultural research. A new report titled Retaking the Field highlights research projects in the five important fields where advancements need to be made by 2030: genomics, microbiomes, sensors, data and transdisciplinary research. Innovations in these areas would allow U.S. agriculture to:

  • Reduce water use by 20 percent
  • Reduce fertilizer use by 15 percent
  • Significantly reduce the need for fungicides and pesticides in plant production
  • Radically reduce the incidence of infectious-disease epidemics for livestock
  • Reduce incidence of foodborne illnesses by 50 percent
  • Increase new plant varieties and animal products, and boost nutritional content

INVESTORS’ LOT IN LIFE: If you flew over any city today in the United States, you would see giant swaths of land dedicated to surface parking, ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent depending on the metro. Now comes the autonomous vehicle revolution and alternative style of mobility, such as auto subscriptions or fractional ownership. In other words, rather than owning a car that sits idle 90 percent of the time, autonomous vehicles of the future will be on the move continuously, resulting in diminished parking requirements. Already, airports are reporting fewer cars in their lots as travelers choose the convenience of using Uber and Lyft to ride to and from their flights. Parking lots and structures have long been cash cows for owners, operators and investors. Maybe not so much in the future.

A SERIOUS DOSE OF LASER TAG: The U.S. military is preparing to roll out a new generation of laser-equipped tanks and drones capable of autonomously tracking, targeting and disabling its targets with invisible lasers. The lasers will also be able to jam drone communications. The Army’s fleet of Stryker tanks will be upgraded with laser cannons, as well as the capability to launch “hunter-killer” drones. The military has already successfully used lasers to shoot down drones. A Congressional Research Service report says the weapon has “the potential to change the very nature of warfare,” and because the laser systems can be used as both a sensor and a weapon, they can shorten the sensor-to-shooter timeline to mere seconds. The upshot: U.S. weapons systems could conduct multiple attacks before the enemy can respond. One can begin to imagine the technology’s eventual commercial uses.

 

Mike Consol (m.consol@irei.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

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