What good are hypersonic jets if it still takes 4 hours to get to the airport?

  • Boeing's CEO got us all daydreaming about super-fast jet travel in the near future.
  • But what good is that dream if we can't fix our traffic jam problems that make getting to the airport impossible?
  • This is a great argument for getting private companies to invest and control more of our infrastructure.
A Concorde jet in 2003
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images
A Concorde jet in 2003

It sounds like a dream. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg made news Monday with his futuristic announcement that he expects to have jets flying as fast as Mach 5 in commercial service withing a decade or two. Then NASA and Honeywell made more super speed news by claiming they've figured out how to reduce the noise from sonic booms.

A lot of travelers must be fantasizing about travel times as short as 2 hours between New York and Shanghai, (it's 15 hours now), and cross country SST travel.

Okay, take a little more time to enjoy that dream because it's already time to come crashing back to reality. Because what good is more accessible supersonic or hypersonic commercial travel if we can't get across town and out to the airport in less than 5 hours?

No, that's not a joke. For those of us who live in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or a number of other cities across the globe, getting to and from the airport is usually the most unreliable and often the most time consuming part of air travel. And it was that very fact that some experts believe contributed to the death of the first iteration of supersonic travel: The commercial jet known as the Concorde, which finally failed in 2003.

For all the assertions that the supersonic Concorde jet service on British Airways and Air France died because of high ticket costs, difficult maintenance and reduced air travel after 9/11, the bottom line is that a service based on cutting edge speed was unable to make much of a dent in the overall hassle of getting to the airport in the first place.

Remember, the allure of Concorde travel wasn't really just about shaving a couple of hours off New York-to-London and New York-to-Paris flights. It was a great deal about the cache of rising above even the elite first class travel on conventional jets. One of the most exclusive trappings of wealth was being a regular Concorde passenger. But to get there, the richest people in America and Europe had to endure one of the most aggravating aspects of our lives that put all classes of people onto a level playing field: traffic jams.

You might be sitting in a nice limo or an expensive sports car, but that doesn't get you to JFK Airport any faster than the guy idling next to you in a '84 Ford Taurus on the Van Wyck Expressway.

Throw in having to navigate through the hoi polloi at crowded airports during peak travel times, and you might start asking whether it even pays to be a millionaire anymore.

The real takeaway here is just how much our infrastructure mess slows our economy and stifles innovation. Considering the condition and functionality of many of our highways, it's a wonder why no one ever reacted to Elizabeth Warren's boast that it was the government that built the roads by asking why in the world she and the rest of the political class aren't ashamed of those roads in the first place!

That brings us to the debate over President Donald Trump's push to get more private sector involvement, control, and of course investment in his $1 trillion infrastructure plan. He's talked about how the airlines want and would benefit from a privatized air traffic control system and modernized airports.

But that just scratches the surface. Just about every other business and worker you can think of would benefit from roads or transportation systems that reduce traffic jams. Seattle based INRIX says traffic jams alone are costing every American an average of $1,200 per year, and $300 billion in total for 2016.

So why wouldn't it be a good idea to get businesses who need to overcome this massive productivity hurdle to invest their money and intellectual input in the planning and maintenance of those roads? These aren't drive-by carnival barkers, they're all the nation's businesses that need these things to survive.

With that in mind, one of Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman's most famous quotes starts to make a lot more sense. Friedman said: "The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus."

We've seen what government bureaus have given us when it comes to our roads in and out of major cities. They're dangerous, ineffective, and their killing our "selfish" dreams of being able to fly in the hypersonic jets of the future! Why not let the companies and others with much more on the line than votes try to make them better?

CEO of Fiamma Partners and Former Co-Owner of the Dallas Mavericks Frank Zaccanelli, who helped oversee projects like Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Victory Park and American Airlines Arena in Dallas, agrees that infrastructure needs to improve.

"Our lawmakers have let the roads, bridges and airports fall apart. Simply put, we have to address our infrastructure issues in every major city within the next 5-10 years or no one is going to care how long it takes to fly to Tokyo," he said.

He acknowledged that the politics associated with privatizing public works "are heavy lifting" since the public "gets nervous when they think the private sector is going to take control of infrastructure."

Still, he added that the public needs to realize that this is good for efficiency and the nation's debt, and ultimately will lead to lower taxes for everyone.

And it's not like a lot of leaders in the private sector aren't already very interested now. It's not just the thrill of digging that's getting Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk working hard to get Los Angeles to allow him to create a new subterranean transportation system for the city.

So what makes you more uncomfortable, the idea that a private corporation might act too selfishly when it comes to road improvements and maintenance or the certainty that you will have to budget ludicrous extra time to successfully travel the government-controlled roads as they are now? And also ask yourself who's more likely to get us to the airport fast enough to make flying 3,800 miles and hour worth it, the government or the airline company that stands to profit from those dreams the most?

We better get the answers to those questions soon or those dreams of 2 hour travel times to the furthest reaches of the world will remain just that, dreams.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.