Aviation is a complex multi-billion-dollar business entangled with national politics, manufacturing duopolies and oligopolies, cloaked negotiations, international trade and treaties, military operations and anti-trust immunity. The opacity and scale of this industry makes it difficult to comprehend for the average traveller. Dominated by a few big players, over the past twenty years, the aviation industry has become narrower and narrower, with manufacturers and airlines acquiring or merging with smaller companies to increase their market share. Today, a few very powerful entities rule the air.…
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An Archaeology of Aviation Superpowers: The Mojave Boneyard

Lara Chapman

Aviation is a complex multi-billion-dollar business entangled with national politics, manufacturing duopolies and oligopolies, cloaked negotiations, international trade and treaties, military operations and anti-trust immunity. The opacity and scale of this industry makes it difficult to comprehend for the average traveller. Dominated by a few big players, over the past twenty years, the aviation industry has become narrower and narrower, with manufacturers and airlines acquiring or merging with smaller companies to increase their market share. Today, a few very powerful entities rule the air. Boeing (USA) and Airbus (EU) are among the more familiar examples, together holding 99% of the market share of commercial jet manufacturing making them one of the most successful duopolies in manufacturing history.

As a result, commercial exchanges become political exchanges behind closed doors, with nations pitting companies against each other in an anti-competitive environment to secure good deals, manufacturing rights, jobs, exports/import agreements and, of course, huge profit margins. In contrast, planes themselves have a strong, physical presence. At the end of their lives, these massive technological objects often end up in the industry’s unique dumping grounds – known as aircraft boneyards – where they are stored, resold, dismantled for parts or scrapped.

Combining satellite imagery and working with plane spotters to identify models, manufacturers and owners of the carcasses in the graveyard, Lara Chapman approaches the eerie site of the Mojave Aircraft Boneyard like an archaeologist. Each piece of junk becomes an entry point into the complex economic and political history and future of the aviation industry. This project offers a new understanding of planes as powerful tools – even at the end of their lifecycle. Junk becomes an apparatus for investigation and illumination, highlighting the need to question the systems that facilitate and encourage the dominance of a powerful few.

Credits

Plane Spotting and Identification: Lance Broad and Tim Johns

Aviation Datasets and Archives Advisor: Beau Chenery

References

Aaron Gregg, “Trump says Finland is buying Boeing fighter jets. The Finnish president called that news a ‘duck.’” Washington Post, August 30, 2017. Link

Bryan Shelmon, “Why Airbus And Boeing Have No Competition And Dominate The Market,” Simple Flying, February 23, 2019. Link

Daniel McCoy, “Boeing hikes commercial list prices by nearly 4 percent,” Wichita Business Journal, February 22, 2019. Link

Eric Lipton, Nicola Clark and Andrew W. Lehren, “Diplomats Help Push Sales of Jetliners on the Global Market,” New York Times, January 2, 2011. Link

Garrett Reim, “‘Japanese Air Force One’ for sale,” FlightGlobal, August 14, 2019. Link

Geoffrey Gertz, “Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier: Making sense of the aircraft subsidy wars,” Brookings, October 19, 2017. Link

Jean Paul Pion Garcia, “The Use of Excess Aircraft as Maximization of Resources” (Hons. thes., Western Michigan University, 2012). Link

Jeff Newcamp, Wim Verhagen, and Ricky Curran, “Fleet Management Decision Making With Individual Aircraft Tracking Data,” in Proceedings of the 35th Conference and 29th ICAF Symposium, Nagoya, June 7–9, 2017. Link

Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, “New Chinese 5th Generation Fighter Jet--J31 Performs More Flight Tests,” Popular Science, May 22, 2014. Link

Joanna Bailey, “China Set To Break Airbus And Boeing’s Aviation Duopoly,” Simple Flying, April 19, 2019. Link

Ken Roberts, “Downside Of Boeing-Airbus Duopoly Apparent When One Stumbles,” Forbes, March 18, 2019. Link

Michael Boyd, “Only Two Global Airliner Manufacturers Left, And Lots Of Fallout Coming,” Forbes, November 26, 2018. Link

Nicholas Cummins, “China’s Answer To The Boeing 737—The Comac C919,” Simple Flying, December 4, 2018. Link

Smithsonian Channel, “Roswell's Bizarre Aircraft Boneyard,” YouTube, February 25, 2014. Link

Steven Pearlstein, “Boeing and Airbus, the new ‘super duopoly,’” Washington Post, April 25, 2018. Link

“The Airbus and Boeing Duopoly: Would More Aggressive Antitrust Enforcement Benefit the Commercial Aviation Industry?” Competition Policy International, April 18, 2019. Link

Vladimir Karnozov, “Russian Officials Reveal J-31 Engine and Describe Sales to China,” AINonline, November 23, 2012. Link

Bio

Lara Chapman is a London-based writer, design researcher and curator. Her work explores the hidden narratives, patterns and politics that operate in everyday objects. Lara’s writing has been published in Disegno, TLmag and Running Dog and she has exhibited projects at the V&A, Dutch Design Week and Stanley Picker Gallery. She holds an MA in Design Curating and Writing from DAE (2019) and a BA in Product and Furniture Design from Kingston University (2017).

Contacts

lara-chapman.com Link

@laralilychapman Link