Fear and Flying

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Fear and Flying

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There was an eerie silence on Sept. 12, 2001. I stopped jogging and looked upward, listening. Still no planes in the sky. All of my life, even when I was out in the wilderness, it seemed like there were always jet trails or the drone of distant airplanes above. Now, nothing. No business travelers. No tourists. No air mail. No Fed-Ex. The grounding of planes in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 hijackings didn't last long, but it did have long-lasting effects on the American economy—and Americans' psyche. It's hard for me to imagine a world without airplanes. Growing up in the Seattle area, my dad and uncle and many friends' parents worked for Boeing. And even in the 1960s and '70s we saw firsthand the ups and downs of the airline industry. My dad got laid off so many times he decided to go into business for himself. But now, as we approach the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight, things are even more volatile. The headlines are full of bad news for the airline industry. "Unfriendly Skies" proclaimed U.S. News and World Report in its April 28 issue. "The world is awash in missiles that can shoot down airliners," said the drophead. SARS has added to the airlines' woes. It's as if the airlines themselves had contracted a dread disease. "The SARS outbreak can potentially become more devastating to Asia's aviation industry than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned" May 7 (www.news24.com). After losing $31 billion over the last two years, the airline industry has lost another $10 billion this year alone! Some see a silver lining in this cloud. With all the trouble the airline industry has faced, there are some good airfares out there—if you’re brave enough to take advantage of them. It seems many people aren't. Terrorism, SARS and the economy (not to mention deep-vein thrombosis, air rage, turbulence and the tiny seats) are keeping people away in droves, and nudging more airlines over the brink of bankruptcy. In the midst of all these troubles for the commercial airlines, the military application of air power has never been stronger. The war in Iraq was truly awesome, as ever-more-accurate high-tech weapons and aircraft play an increasingly vital role in modern warfare. A decline in demand for military aircraft is not the worry today. But the commercial airline industry is in retreat, with bankruptcies and cancelled orders for new planes a regular occurrence. In spite of a $15 billion bailout after Sept. 11 and another $2.9 billion this year, things look bleak. What would Wilbur and Orville Wright have made of all this back in 1903? Their 852-foot, 59-second flight might have been momentous, but they certainly couldn't have imagined how much their invention would change the world. A fragile balance At the beginning of the 20th century, so many different inventors were trying to unlock the mysteries of flight, it’s a wonder that the two brothers from Dayton, Ohio were the first. The fragile balance between forces of lift, drift and gravity was a difficult challenge to master. James Tobin, author of To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight, says what separated the Wrights from some better-funded rivals was "their particular aptitude for learning how to do a difficult thing." He says of Wilbur, "I can’t think of anyone who stuck to a plan so carefully, who figured out what he needed to do, and just did it." That stick-to-itiveness revolutionized our world. Combined with the giant leaps in communication and scientific research, their transportation breakthrough helped bring about a time like that described in the biblical prophecy recorded by Daniel: " But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4). What better way to "run to and fro" than by air! Before the plane, the only way to cross the Atlantic was by ship. But while the first steamship took 27 days and 11 hours to reach Europe and later models cut that to less than four days, planes have cut the time to mere hours. A hundred years ago, who could have imagined how small and interconnected our world could be? Now we worry that the 200 million people who have flown since the SARS crisis began could be spreading the dread disease into every corner of the earth. It’s reminiscent of the infamous four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Air travel gives a new twist to the ride of the fourth horseman of pestilence (Revelation 6:8; Matthew 24:7) just as airplanes transformed and multiplied the effects of the red horseman of war (Revelation 6:4). Today, the airline industry, like the science of flight itself, depends on a fragile balance of conflicting forces. How many more terrorist attacks or disease epidemics would it take to destroy that balance and the modern way of life so tied to air travel? The troubles facing the airline industry are only symptoms of the larger troubles plaguing mankind. If we truly are in the "time of the end" described in the books of Daniel and Revelation, then we need to understand the solutions described in these books as well. You'll find Are We Living in the Time of the End? fascinating reading. Request a free copy today.