formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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October 29, 2013 Floating Airports

The Liberty Gazette
October 29, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: One day my ship will come in. And when it does, it will probably be at an airport. Or, maybe it will be an airport - a floating airport. Why not? 71% of the world is covered by water.

If you’re looking around for fresh ideas for where to put your money, if you’ve been thinking long and hard about what to do with that island you bought that’s just sitting out there in the middle of deep water, doing nothing, an airport may be just what you need. And even better, it can be yours for free! But here’s the catch: you have to be first. It’s only free the first time.

A novel plan being floated by some gifted engineering visionaries includes renewable energy technology and potential for discovery or invention of anti-corrosion protection and other building materials. A prime test bed for many new products and processes, it will have to be funded by private industry, which can then benefit from development and advancement of their work by selling their newly patented products commercially. And all the islander has to do is let the party come to the island, pretty much.

This research and development project would be part infrastructure, part engineering laboratory, part business incubator, floating in a remote, deep water place, using wind, wave, and deep water thermal technologies.

Linda: Bud Slabbaert and Terry Drinkard are two of the brilliant minds advocating this concept, and they’re curious about the business incubator possibilities. They see potential uses of a floating airport to develop businesses that service research vessels, support world-traveling sailors and deep sea fishing vacations, scuba diving and eco-tourism, long-term aquatic research, an undersea colony, and a base for sea rescue and anti-piracy squadrons. Regardless of its specialty offerings, any airport, floating or not, will always serve as an emergency landing strip just in case it’s needed. That’s the safety aspect that will be appreciated by anyone faced with needing it.

How would it be built? In the oil industry, structures rest on piles driven into the sea floor, the same technology proposed for a new San Diego airport. But it would not be purely floating or movable, and it’s expensive to build. I worked for over a decade for a company that builds platforms for the offshore oil industry. That company uses tension leg and semi-submersible designs. But one area not yet navigated is pneumatic stabilization, "which is essentially a group of cylinders closed on top, but open below, allowing the water to rise up into the cylinder, compressing the air inside until it supports the weight of the structure," wrote Drinkard in his article, "Floating airport: a pilot project" in (Oct. 25, 2012).

As has been thoroughly documented, well developed airports are an enticement to industry and commercial development. All things considered, a free airport sounds like a real deal for the right island partner, so check your island inventory. If you have some stashed away in the areas of Maldives, French Polynesia, Salomon Islands or the like, that may just be prime real estate for cutting edge research. The opportunities, proponents say, are as yet unknown but when the infrastructure is built, they will come, just as certain as baseball players in an Iowa cornfield.

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