Technological Change Throughout History

Over the years, technological change has been the primary factor affecting various industries in the world. It has altered the transportation industry and particularly the airline transportation. After the invention of the first plane by the Wright brothers in the first decade of the 20th century, technological advancement has improved the models of aircraft and the safety of the passengers. The brothers were the first to make a powered controlled airplane successfully, and in December 1903, they conducted the first human flight. The demand for air transportation has steadily risen after the World War I, and that has increased the traffic volume and aviation emissions that are directly proportional to the usage of fuel. The drivers that initiated technological change in the history of airline transportation include the cost of fuel, environment conservation and sustainability, as well as social demand, which have changed the design and size of airplanes and the infrastructure.

Over the years, the cost of fuel has been the core driver in the enhancement of fuel efficiency in aircraft. Achieving significant progress was meant to accomplish other targets such as takeoff and landing performance, range of payload, and speed. In the 1960s, the prices for fuel constituted the largest part of the direct cost of airline operations. To minimize the expenditures, companies requested planes with more efficient fuel consumption forcing the manufacturers to design new aircraft engines as per the market demand. However, owing to the sluggish rate of technological progression in developing the engine, since the 1970s aircraft innovations have slowed down (Lee & Mo, 2011). Conversely, the airframe material and aerodynamic design have improved over the years in an attempt to enhance fuel efficiency.

Significant environmental ramifications related to the change in climate as well as the stratospheric depletion of the ozone layer on the global scale are strongly linked with the growth in the volume of air transportation. Some of the consequences associated with the increased volume include noise, poor quality of water, and decreased air quality among others due to the emissions produced by aircraft. Initial airplanes created a lot of noise, and the jet engines emitted carbon dioxide gas, which triggered concern in the United Nations. A dedicated organization of the UN, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has been advocating for environmental conservation since 1977 and through its committee of protecting the environment has set an international standard for noise and CO2 emissions (Lee & Mo, 2011). It forced the manufacturers to adopt advanced technology to design engines with an effective rate of fuel combustion and that produce little noise. These factors can be associated with the social demand driver, where the society requests environmentally friendly products to ensure their safety.

At the beginning of air transport development, public transport operation used the airship. Jet engine introduction augmented the cost of seat mile by approximately 22% in relation to the previous piston engine airplane (Schmitt & Gollnick, 2016). Moreover, they allow bigger aircraft size, increased speed, and altitude. The use of jet engines in the public air transportation started with an enormous failure due to the Comet disaster, which prevented the European engineering talent from acquiring acceptance in the market. After the failure, the American manufacturers McDonald-Douglas and Boeing technologically advanced their airplanes powered by a jet engine and created DC-8 and B-707. They launched them simultaneously, and the market successfully embraced them. They were intended for approximately 175 travelers, whereby freight increased by dint of about 75 % related to the older distant airplanes such as Lockheed L-1049 and DC-7 (Schmitt & Gollnick, 2016). However, jet aircraft were noisier in the course of landing and takeoff. Because of a larger cabin, direct costs of operating decreased by around 15 % compared to those of DC-7 as well as DC-6, an older model.

Most airfields were not equipped to provide accommodations for new big airplanes like Jumbo Jets. The use of lighting in the airports started first in the late 1920s, and approaching lighting came into use in the 1930s. The lighting indicated the angle of descending and proper direction. Later, the ICAO standardized flash intervals and colors of the lights. Aircraft such as DC-7 flew for short distances; but with the current technology, new planes make much longer trips. Since 2013, the Singapore Air company has been operating an aeronautical from Singapore to New York, which is the longest route ever that takes around 19 hours to complete (Schmitt and & Gollnick, 2016). Additionally, the technology has led to increased passenger capacity of the modern plane. For instance, A380, the biggest civil aircraft today, has certified passenger capacity of 852.


Lee, J. & Mo, J. (2011). Analysis of technological innovation and environmental performance improvement in aviation sector. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 8(9), 3777-3795.

Schmitt, D. & Gollnick, V. (2016). Historical development of air transport (1st ed., pp. 25-37). Springer-Verlag Wien. Retrieved from