Idle threats and the plane truth

Delta Air Lines passenger planes are parked at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Ala. Elijah Nouvelage / REUTERS

Share Adjust Comment Print

The air travel industry has a jumbo problem.

Coronavirus restrictions have idled 62 per cent of the world’s jets but carriers are still so busy they can barely keep up — but in ways you’d never expect.

Simply put, planes are built to fly and, when they don’t, bad things start to happen, fast.

But, even before that, there’s the colossal problem of figuring out where to put 16,000 of the big metal birds. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s airport has 200 aircraft fitted like a giant jigsaw puzzle around gates and along a runway.

Other airlines are looking for storage space in the Australian outback and America’s Mojave Desert because grounded planes need warm dry conditions.

But it’s not like parking a car for a few months. Idled aircraft need a huge amount of maintenance and preventive care because they’re not designed to sit on the ground for any length of time.

And it’s not just the sophisticated avionics that need attention. One of the biggest problems is brakes, which can fade within 24 hours, according to aviation officials. They need continual care and, in Finland, each of one airline’s jets has a dozen wooden chocks behind the wheels to keep it from moving.

The company calls them “corona chocks.”

Tires are another serious concern. Even the biggest jets must be jacked into the air to have their tires rotated every one or two weeks, especially because the planes are heavy.

Even when parked, most are loaded with fuel to keep them stable in the wind, and to make sure tanks stay lubricated. And while landing gear is coated with hydraulic fluid to protect against rust, gigantic silica absorption packets are put inside engines to keep them dry.

Every fuselage opening is covered to keep out insects and nesting birds.

Most carriers reconnect aircraft batteries every two weeks and, once a month, a more rigorous check is made, involving hydraulics and flight controls. Protective coverings are removed, engines are started, and technicians inspect everything from avionics and ultra-sensitive sensors to air-conditioning and anti-icing systems.

In some settings, humidity corrodes parts and fosters interior mildew and, in arid conditions, sand and dust wreak havoc. Hurricanes and typhoons are also a threat when jets are stuck on the ground within harm’s reach.

Though the cost of all this is less than the $4,000 to $6,000 an hour it takes to fly a jet, the overall loss to the industry is staggering. It’s estimated the global air travel sector could lose nearly a third of a trillion dollars this year, jeopardizing 25 million jobs.

The cost is just as high when we don’t serve the purpose for which we were designed. We’re not meant to sit idle on the periphery of life.

Instead, people of God are commissioned to serve others and help them get to their ultimate spiritual destination. I’m reminded of how Paul describes King David, one of the most flawed but powerful of all Biblical figures.

He says “after David had lived out his purpose in his own generation, he was buried with his ancestors” (Acts 13:36). What a beautiful epitaph, and don’t we all want precisely that — to live out our purpose in our own generation?

But a life of meaning doesn’t happen by accident. In Psalm 57:2, David says, “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me.” We must be open, willing, and connected with the One who will guide and equip us do what we were created to do.

That purpose will look different in detail from person-to-person, but it always comes down to what Jesus says matters most: love God with all you have, and others as yourself.

When that doesn’t happen, we just take up space and find ourselves stuck and stultified. And people without purpose are extremely high maintenance.

One of the first things that goes is the brakes that would ordinarily keep our ambitions and appetites in check when we’re living to serve God and others. Without a sense of anything greater than ourselves, it becomes much harder to say no to whatever we want, whenever we want it.

The weight of self-centredness, or boredom, leaves us with a complete absence of emotional balance. We constantly have to rotate through whatever things we grasp at to find satisfaction and fulfilment. At the same time, our lives become heavy and ponderous.

Our spirits are vulnerable to either drying out from a lack of spiritual lubrication, or rusting out from the corrosion that comes from doing nothing of consequence with our time and opportunity. And, if we’re not careful to cover the holes in our hearts, uninvited invaders take up residence and do nasty things.

When we live without purpose, we must constantly recharge our emotional batteries, only to see them fade again quickly from lack of use. And we’re dangerously exposed to the storms of life that do so much damage when we can’t move to a place of emotional and spiritual safety.

Though grounded planes may seem safer than those in the air, they simply face a different set of more subtle and insidious dangers. In the same way, living for ourselves, or for nothing, is never safer in the long run.

It’s simple. People of faith are not designed to sit, but to serve and soar.

Share your thoughts with Rick Gamble at He pastors an independent, nondenominational church in Brantford called Followers of Christ ( and teaches media at Laurier Brantford.