Book Review (Bowen 2010)

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The Economic Geography of Air Transportation

John Bowen

2010, Routledge, 333 pp, Hardback, £95, ISBN 978-0-415-77805-3

Reviewed by Erin Pritchard, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University (17 March 2011)

The Economic Geography of Air Transportation attempts to outline all main aspects of the airborne world from the development of the aircraft, the airports and how life has changed because of them from an economic perspective. The book draws information from a range of different sources and contains a lot of tables and diagrams which help to enhance the readers understanding of what is being said. I found this book to be very informative and one which provides a good introduction into the economics of air transportation.

Chapter two looks at early commercial aviation and how the aircraft has become bigger and faster since it’s creation by the Wright brothers. This chapter gives a good introduction into how the aircraft has developed and how it has therefore allowed the industry to grow. Bowen writes about how why the industry changed from piston engines to jet engines and then explains how the development and expansion of aircrafts and use of jet engines helped to change geographies, such as expansion of major league baseball clubs across the US. This chapter therefore sets the stage for the rest of the book.

Chapter three moves on to look at wide body jetliners and how the use of them has lowered the cost of travel and which in turn has led to more people being able to use the aircraft as a mode of transportation. The chapter contains an interesting claim to how size and not speed has helped air travel to develop as it allows lower costs and improved accessibility.

The book then focuses on the development of the airliner in chapter four. This part mainly looks at Boeing and Airbus. Bowen gives an insightful history into the development of the aircraft and how improvements in technology have allowed it to develop and become what we know of today. Bowen claims that both Airbus and Boeing dominate air travel and both are key players in pushing down the real cost of air travel. One of the main claims within the chapter is that air travel has developed with more focus on efficiency rather than speed which is why Boeing dropped its Sonic Cruiser in 2003 and instead developed the 787 Dreamliner. Bowen uses a good argument of fuel efficiency and low operating costs to argue why efficiency is favoured more than increasing speeds.

Chapter five looks closely at the liberalization of the air travel and the development of new technologies which have helped to increase the usage of air transportation. Bowen gives a good overview of the various policies that have been introduced such as the development of the Single Aviation Market (SAM) and how it has been effective in making air travel a global phenomenon and in turn been instrumental in globalization. Bowen also looks closely as to how deregulation and how it has affected countries in different ways and their airline markets.

The author then moves on in chapter six to network carriers including what they are and how their alliances with one another have an important effect on the geography of international air transportation.

Chapter seven looks at the impact of low cost carriers and how different strategies have allowed them to develop and become successful. Using the strategies used to develop low cost carriers Bowen clearly explains how and why they help to lower cost.  Bowen uses examples from both developed and developing countries. For example the author claims that the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and 1998 gave the conditions for low cost carriers to grow. Bowen argues that new and expanded airports at that time allowed low cost carriers access to needed gates.

The author then moves on by considering how life on the ground has been shaped and changed by air transportation. Chapter eight looks at three types of airline passengers: business travellers, tourists and immigrants. This particular chapter is a very interesting part to the book as it moves from air transportation itself to how it has helped to change life on the ground. Bowen uses some good and very differing examples from changes in Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca, medical tourists and also the increase in sex trafficking.

Chapter nine entitled ‘The Highways of Trade’ looks at how air cargo has allowed perishables to travel further distances which in turn has allowed an expansion to a wider audience. Bowen claims that the increase of perishables and electronics is down to inexpensive cargo rates which has allowed more travel and to further places. From this Bowen provides a good argument as to why businesses chose to locate themselves near air networks.

Chapter ten focuses on airports and their economic impact on the ground and therefore how the world has shrunk unevenly leading to inequality between places. This Bowen argues is because air transportation accessibility is often a means for new economic development which alters urban development around the airports and increases a countries GNP. One of the prime examples Bowen uses is the growth of Singapore’s GNP in comparison to Malaysia’s due to Singapore’s accessibility of Changi Airport. The chapter covers the direct and indirect affects upon local and regional economies such as employment. Chapter ten also looks at the airport business and gives a clear argument into why there has been an increase in retail space in airports. The author then goes on to argue why airport noise has an effect on airport development and gives some clear examples as to how the problem of airport noise is being tackled.

In Chapter eleven Bowen moves on and thoroughly examines some of the negative aspects relating to the industry such as climate change, terrorism and the spread of infectious diseases such as SARS and how they are being tackled. There is a clear focus on the problems of greenhouse gases and what the possible solutions there are such as the creation of hybrid aircrafts. Particular focus is given to the Emissions Trading Scheme and its effect on Low Cost Carriers such as Easy Jet which in turn can effect the gains made by liberalization.

Chapter twelve looks at the future of air transportation, focusing mainly on three issues. The first is its competition from rail which Bowen argues is a more relaxing form of transport with less security checks which have increased in air transport due to threats from terrorism. The book looks at the dilemmas of further development of airports due to the increasing demand of travel which comes with improved technologies and changing policies, citing Heathrow in the UK as a prime example.
Bowen also looks at other issues such as climate change and how developments in greener technologies may help to combat air transports role in reducing greenhouse gases.

The Economic Geography of Air Transportation provides a good coverage about how the world has become smaller and more globalized by air transportation and supports this claim with some good arguments. The author also provides good insight into how air transportation has affected economies on and off the ground. Throughout the book there is a lot of focus upon the development of air transportation within the US. Although Bowen does include a lot about air transportation within the developing world, I was curious to know more about how the future of the air industry may affect the developing world and its economies. Despite this I think this book is very informative and will be a useful tool for both students and researchers interested in air transportation, its affect on the world and its possible future directions. This book could also prove useful as a starting point for future research.

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