Airplanes. Wonders of human imagination, the products of increasingly disparate hands, over a century’s worth of complexity. An Airbus A350 contains 2.65 million parts – the culmination of the work of over 4,000 engineers. Its wing is manufactured in Spain. Its engine, as large as a house, is constructed in the United Kingdom using components arriving from China, India, or Malaysia. The Airbus A350 can carry up to 350 passengers. The company conceived the Beluga aircraft in the 1990s to transport plane parts from manufacturing sites to assembly locations. In 2020, a new model, the Beluga XL, took over the job as proud sky monsters grew in capacity and reach, necessitating even larger components.
Under the London Heathrow Airport flight path, the first plane usually wakes a community before the sun or an alarm clock can signal imminent dawn. Section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, enacted out of environmental concern and to meet “noise abatement objectives,” created a quota system limiting the number of planes that may land between 0430 and 0600. Local resident associations complain regularly, irked by the anti-Circadian rhythm the flying beasts engender. Complaints are a nuisance the government ignores. An individual’s right to sleep comes secondary to the collective right to commerce. It is a quota, not a complete ban; everyone is within their rights. There had been a fight to expand the airport and allow a third runway. This has probably been forgotten, confined to the drawer of other lost arguments that never needed a battle.
According to the International Air Travel Association (IATA), there were over 100,000 flights crisscrossing the world each day in 2019. A portion of these transport businessmen carousing or working at 30,000 feet, feeling the weight of their importance, pressed against their seat, which fought the strength of gravity with jet propulsion. There is value in fleshly handshakes, in huddling heads around the boardroom, collectively breathing corporate purpose. Some routes allow families to send brethren far away to seek economic betterment. Their clans are secure by scheduled, predictable carriages to reunite them; they bargain with Time. One day, “We’ll Meet Again.” Family émigrés will return, bring gifts, hug warmly, and breathe in the smell of love long separated.
The tourists are the pinnacle of the airborne miracle. They peruse a near-infinite menu of voyages to experience the wonder of mountains, feel underwater depths, bask in tropical climates, and eat the histories, cultures, and languages of the world. Airborne journeys sate desires for knowledge, challenge, adventure, and escape; wealth and vacation allowances permitting. Our forebears could not have gathered these disparate sensations in one lifetime, hemmed in by the inaccessibility of the world.
We knew better, but having ignored the true cost of our hubris, bore witness to a slow annihilation. The speed and frequency with which planes move people, luggage and the things we inadvertently carry are effective instruments for demise. Our airborne brilliance, an agent of Chaos, repeatedly moved a microscopic pathogen around the planet, contaminating everything in reach. So, the skies fell silent. The flying dragons were grounded by their awe-inspiring capacity and growing reach. We looked skyward, missing the white noise comfort, ruing the reduced capacity to feel a squeeze of the hand, the warmth of a kiss from a tie never intended to be severed.
A temporary semblance of order returns; we cannot ignore the forces unleashed.