Some Thoughts on Commercial Aviation
The BBC has just broadcast a documentary on the launch of Concorde.
Concorde's passing was a crying shame, because that beautiful big bird was one of humanity's great achievements of the last 50 years. For whatever reason, men decided that they would build a commercial airliner that would fly faster than sound and by God they did it.
However, like the rest of us Concorde was a creature of its time, and an in age of cut-price airlines, e-mail and ridiculously cheap international phone calls the actual need for individuals to pass from country to country in order to conduct their business made it less economic, the Western world's one constant measure of value and worth. The men and women in Bristol who built it at least have the knowledge that their creation was the greatest example of its kind that there has ever been, an achievement unlikely to be equalled for as long as Man takes to the skies.
Bearing that in mind, it's a little hard to have sympathy for those whose journeys have been disrupted by the industrial dispute at Heathrow Airport.
On August 12, the 'Daily Telegraph' carried an article on the effect of the strike on travellers, entitled ''After all that's gone on in London, this is the last thing Britain needs'. It interviewed four travellers:
"Angela Kunicky, 29, a Canadian studying in London, was hoping to fly to Vancouver to attend a friend's wedding at the weekend.
Visibly upset that she would not be seeing her family tomorrow as planned, she said: "I usually fly with Air Canada but for some reason this time I thought I would use something different.
"I can't believe this has happened. How am I going to make it back when I'm sure all other flights will be full? I have been really looking forward to this trip and even cutting it a day short is devastating."; then came,
"Malcolm Hannaford, 32, a radio engineer from the Forest of Dean, was angry. "We've been standing outside the terminal for four hours without being told what is going on. In all likelihood, British Airways would have known earlier in the day that they wouldn't be able to operate flights. The lack of information is astounding.
"We are club members so I expect to be treated better than this. Now we know it is cancelled, it will be a relief to go home but I don't know if we can take the trip now."
He is expected at a business seminar in Sydney on Monday and was taking his partner Samantha and their five-month-old son for their first holiday to Australia."; then came,
"Jane Basset, a 42-year-old architect, had been intending to travel back to Sydney after a two-week holiday with her four-year-old daughter. "I'm worried as my daughter needs medication for her stomach and I haven't prepared enough to hang around here today. It is hard enough travelling as a lone mother without encountering problems like this," she said.
"I bought my flight with air miles, which carries a lot of restrictions on re-booking, and I hope they will make an exception in my case."; then came,
"Paul Moravek, 28, an investment banker, said that he would not be leaving unless it was on a plane to New York. "I've been looking forward to a boys' weekend for ages and I'm dammed if I'm going to skulk home without one."
It would seem that at least two of the four are foreigners. We still allow strikes in the UK, so if their plans are upset by British people doing what British people are still allowed to do then that is an unfortunate consequence of travelling to or living in a country other than your own.
The two who would seem to be British appear to be travelling mainly for the purposes of leisure. Less than 50 years ago, the British and Australians operated an emigration system called 'Assisted Passage', whereby all costs were covered except a contribution by the emigrant of £10, and the journey to the other side of the world was made by sea. The concept of a holiday to Australia was unthinkable.
Outside the Emigration from Ireland Heritage Centre in Cobh (Cove), County Cork is a statue of Annie Moore. Annie, later Mrs Annie O'Connell of Waco, Texas, made history on January 1st 1892, her 15th birthday, when she became the first emigrant to the United States to be processed at Ellis Island, an accident of history which also earned a statue at her point of arrival. The worlds of Annie Moore and Paul Moravek could not be further apart. Annie went to New York to improve her chances of survival - today's tourist seems only to be interested in going to The City That Never Sleeps for a 'boys' weekend'.
The builders of Concorde achieved their feat when we still took collective pride that great engineering achievements like that were partly British. We don't seem to any more, which makes it easier for us to consign the labours of those who went before us onto the scrapheap when they become 'uneconomical'.
Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the Heathrow strike, the vast majority of those who have encountered difficulties as a result have not been seriously inconvenienced. Waiting for an airplane, no matter how long it takes, is not a serious risk to life and limb - nobody ever died of waiting for the baggage handlers to go back to work. Given our advanced technologies, many are travelling simply because they can, when they probably don't need to.
The culture of free movement of persons means that tourism to destinations where one can be blown up (Sharm el-Sheikh) or swept away (Thailand) is positively encouraged.
Any country which relies on tourism isn't working hard enough. Too much tourism is a sign of a badly run economy, and usually poor social health. Tourism depends on either scenery and climate, which are both in the sole gift of nature and aren't earned, or else on the heritage and culture produced by previous generations of citizens. If the tourists go somewhere else, there's nothing to fall back on when times are hard, and there are no other means of generating income. Tourism was once almost exclusively the province of the rich, who would undertake the 'Grand Tour', as much for the purpose of education as entertainment. Now, instead of staying home and getting drunk Brits go abroad and get drunk - they're still Brits wherever they go. They might as well stay at home.
Which is what they should be encouraged to do. I know that I have only seen a fraction of my own country - if getting drunk on your vacation is your thing, there must be tens of thousands of places in Britain to do it.
If one believes in banning immigration, banning all international travel is a logical next step. Just think how many pesky terrorists we'd be able to keep out.
And don't feel too sorry for the much-vaunted discount airlines who would go bust if we all had to stay within our borders. After all, they helped put Concorde out of business.