Floating & self-sufficient airports coming up next.
Airports need a lot of space, but in the places most in need of air connections — islands and large metropolises — it’s a commodity that’s in short supply.
In search of solutions, planners will sometimes turn to the sea. Huge land reclamation projects are an obvious route. That’s what was done in Hong Kong and Osaka to expand airport capacity. Some visionaries have taken a rather different approach. What if we could make a runway float over the virtually limitless flat surface of the sea?
Aircraft carriers have floating runways, but they’re also warships which need to be maneuverable and to travel at speed. Their decks are too small to deal with commercial craft — even the largest carrier falls short of the requirements of modern jet airliners.But let’s take the concept of the floating deck further.
What if we strip it of its engines and lower decks, anchor it in a set location, and then make it long enough and wide enough for a medium-sized airliner to land on it? The result is a very large floating structure that’s neither a ship nor an island: It’s a floating airport.
During World War II, the British entertained the idea of building runways on icebergs in order to provide cover for the vital Atlantic convoys.
Project Habakkuk never materialized, but the floating airport concept lived on.
In 1995, 17 Japanese private firms, mostly shipbuilders and steelmakers, formed the Technological Research Association of Mega-Float with the support of the Japanese government.
The goal was to design and test a floating airport concept that, if successful, could be installed in Tokyo Bay — and the Tokyo Mega-Float is possibly the most ambitious attempt of its kind to date.
The project called for a floating structure with a 4,000-meter-long runway, enough even for large airliners.
A smaller-scale model with a 1,000-meter-long runway was actually built and tests proved that the Mega Float was suitable for aircraft operations. However, the project did not go ahead and the structure was later dismantled.
Similar proposals have been floated, quite literally in this case, for San Diego, a city whose international airport has little room left to expand in its current location.
Proposals to build a brand new two-runway international airport in the sea, a few miles off Point Loma have been put forward by two different companies, OceanWorks Development and Float Inc.
Whether it was the $20 billion price tag that proved a bit too expensive, or lingering doubts about the technical feasibility of the concept, the fact is neither project has materialised.
The San Diego projects have some similarities with the floating airport concept devised by Terry Drinkard, an American aeronautical engineer who has conducted extensive research in this field.
His scheme draws heavily from technologies and materials that have already been tested in the construction of deepwater oil rigs.
Drinkard’s vision is for a full-fledged offshore “aerotropolis:” a floating structure that, as well as being able to handle medium-sized airliners (of the Boeing 737 or A320 types), would also host a whole range of economic and research activities, from experimentation with renewable energy technology to aquaculture and yachting. This floating airport would be energy self-sufficient.
Power would be harvested from the waves, from the sun and through ocean thermal energy conversion, a technology that produces electricity by utilizing the temperature differences between depths of seawater.
Its structure would provide a base for oceanographic research and aquaculture and it would also double as a port and recreational marina, while its potential offshore status could attract a host of other economic activities.