Quiet in the skies

Pretty much anyone who lives within 25 km of Amsterdam lives in at least one of the flight paths for Schiphol airport. (See this nice little article at 99% Invisible to understand how airport runways designations work. For example, Schiphol’s longest runway the Polderbaan is designated as as “18R-36L”.)

Most days, the skies over our house are criss-crossed with contrails. How many planes come zooming by, at what height, and how much noise they make all depends on the wind direction. On busy days, there’s one every few minutes. They can make a lot of noise, but you get used to it very quickly.

And now it’s not there any more. The skies are quiet and empty. I noticed it earlier this week as I was sitting downstairs having a sandwich for lunch, and I noticed the silence. Nothing moving in the street outside. The constant background noise of A8 motorway a few hundred meters away was minimal. And no planes.

Looking up out of my office dormer window, there’s nothing but cool, pale blue from horizon to horizon. The last time this happened was in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted and air traffic in northern Europe was shut down for a week because of the ash cloud.

I only have a vague memory of how everyone reacted over that. I seem to remember stories and speculation about what would happen if that became the new normal, and air travel was shut down permanently. But that passed, and everything carried on. Will this time be different?

Contrails casting shadows on clouds below them, September 9th 2009