- Since the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in
Iceland on April 14 air traffic across Europe had been grounded causing
staggering losses to businesses and airlines as well as incalculable personal
hardships. There are some very serious reasons to question whether the
total flight ban was necessary.
- The danger, we are told, is real. Volcanic particles
harder than steel but not visible to weather radar could damage the engines
of aircraft and cause crashes. Yet serious questions are beginning to be
raised as to whether the first ever continental flight ban in the history
of world aviation was necessary.
- First, as Joachim Hunold, CEO of Germany's second largest
carrier, Air Berlin, stated in Bild am Sonntag, "not one single
weather ballon has been put up in Germany to measure if and how much volcanic
ash there is in the air. The closing of the airspace is entirely based
on the results of a computer simulation at the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre
(VAAC) in England."
- One veteran Air France pilot, Steven Savignol, told me,"I
can tell you from my own experience that with blue skies, aircrafts can
fly perfectly and very safely. They made test flights with Air France,
KLM, Lufthansa and of course, all is ok!"
- Met Office Computer simulations
- It turns out that the VAAC in England is working from
a "computer simulation," and has not even conducted an actual
sky ash measurement. The agency responsible for Volcanic Ash measurement
for the region, including Iceland, is Britain's "Met Office,"
the UK's National Weather Service, which in turn is a Trading Fund within
the Ministry of Defence, operating on a commercial basis under set targets
according to their website.
- German Transportation Minister Peter Ramsauer (CSU) told
Germany's Der Spiegel, "... Berlin as other European governments are
bound to the international regulations regarding volcano eruptions and
the estimates of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in London." The
citation of 'London' by a responsible EU transportation minister is itself
a bit puzzling as VAAC is in Exeter, not in London.
- What we are witnessing here is not a law or a regulation
that has been tested in experience with previous volcanoes and air flights.
This is a policy drawn up by the International Civil Aviation Organisation
(ICAO), which created the worldwide VAAC stations in 1993 to monitor volcanic
eruptions and their effects. The ICAO Exeter office data is then interpreted
and enforced by the UK's National Air Traffic Service (NATS). That interpretation
needs a closer look.
- In September 2009 the ICAO published a 'Contingency plan
for handling traffic in the event of volcanic ash penetrating the airspace
of North Atlantic Region'. The guidelines make no distinction at all between
major or minor eruptions. Nor do they take into account the dilution effect
as the cloud spreads from the original point. The only reference is to
generic "dust clouds," without any attempt to carry out a risk
- Using as its model the largest and most dangerous of
Icelandic volcanoes, the Katla volcano, ICAO offered a series of procedures
for monitoring and tracking volcano ash clouds and for 'advice' to be given
to airlines in the event of a volcano eruption.
- The current eruption is a relatively minor one
certainly not in the league of Katla. Yet it is worth noting that for even
the most serious of possible eruptions, the plan issued by the IOCA involved
re-routing aircraft around, or under dust plumes, not banning all air flights
as has occurred with this recent eruption.
- Most of Europe and large parts of the rest of the world
flying European airspace has been scared into believing that to fly would
be madness. To fly beneath the cloud until clear of it would mean burning
more fuel. Low-flying to simply avoid the danger of ash being sucked into
the jet engines is a temporary solution. Steve Wood, Chief Pilot at Sussex
and Surrey Air Ambulance, describes the measures being taken as 'a complete
overreaction.' Modern jet aircraft engines are robust, they must be, says
Air France's Savignol. They have to face not only the hazards of bird strikes,
but rain, hail and even salt spray on take-off from coastal airports. Furthermore,
sand is a common hazard from dust storms and from desert airfields.
- Some aircraft are better equipped than others to deal
with high-dust conditions, and consultation with aircraft and engine manufacturers
might have enabled more precise restrictions to be imposed, rather than
a blanket ban. But a spokesman for England's NATS admitted: 'We don't really
deal with particular manufacturers.' They were more concerned with 'applying
the international regulations.'
- The blanket ban under clear blue skies and glorious sunshine
across Europe is making some wonder whether there is something else going
on under the cover of earthquake eruptions, such as a test run to shut
down air travel internationally. Since no one has ever been injured from
an aircraft disabled by a volcanic eruption, it is a question that lingers.
The absolute ban is an over-reaction, at a minimum, and shows poor judgment.
One can only speculate if other agendas are involved.