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Building economies around air travel

A plane lands at Los Angeles International Airport.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: We'll get the latest U.S. trade figures for February a little later today. No illusions about whether or not there's a trade deficit in this country. The only question is whether it's gotten bigger. There's one place we can see which direction global trade is going. And that's at the airport. What destinations are most popular at the big airline hubs.

Greg Lindsay has a new book out, called "Aerotropolis," and it looks at how cities of the future could be built around airports. Good morning.

Greg Lindsay: Good morning.

Chiotakis: So you define this as a city built around an airport. I thought airports were built around cities?

Lindsay: You know, a city around an airport is sort of an extreme case. That's what we're seeing in places like China, India, Dubai, the Middle East -- where population growth is leading them to build entire cities from scratch. And you know, in a truly global economy, if you have to put a city somewhere, you need to connect it to the rest of the world, and so therefore it sort of makes sense to them to build a city from scratch around an airport. Here in the United States and Europe, we think airports are nuisances at best, but really are our connections to the world. I think in a truly global economy, we need to do a better job of integrating them into the cities we have and make them into better places to live and work.

Chiotakis: This, of course, is all dependent upon oil prices, which have been so volatile and on the increase, by the way, lately. If we're building a future around air travel, how is that going to jive with the increasingly alarming oil picture that we have?

Lindsay: Air travel doesn't correspond to oil prices; it corresponds to GDP growth. So basically, the wealthier we become, the more we value our time, and that leads to increasing air travel. This is why China and India are posting 20 percent air travel growth rates, even though they're facing the same high oil prices. But you know, in the long run, we have to develop liquid biofuels. I think there's no future in which we can sort of just continue to consume fossil fuels at the rate that we're going. And you're never going to have an electric 747.

Chiotakis: How is this going to shape the future of trade around the world?

Lindsay: You can really use air travel and air routes as a proxy for seeing how the world is connecting to itself. So for example, the rise of Middle Eastern airlines like Emirates out of Dubai, and Qatar Airways out of Doha -- they've massively expanded into both China and Africa and sort of created this sort of hub that's become this sort of great crossroads for Chinese and African traders going in both directions. It's sort of a resurrection of the notion of the Silk Road that once bound China to the Roman Empire. So we're seeing the economic geography around the world being reshaped by these new air routes and new airlines.

Chiotakis: Greg Lindsey, author of "Aerotropolis." Thanks.

Lindsay: Thank you for having me.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.
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