Volcanic Ash Cloud Restrictions ‘Embarrassing’, Say Airlines

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 19, 2010

Note: This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

(by Andrew Hough, Martin Evans, Alastair Jamieson, Richard Alleyne, Bruno Waterfield, and David Millward, Telegraph.co.uk) – Comprehensive restrictions on flights across Europe resulting from volcanic ash floating over from Iceland are an “embarrassment”, an airline chief has claimed, as calls intensify for the no fly ban to be lifted.

A number of European [airlines] have run test flights which they say have identified no problems operating in areas closed by the authories. British Airways said one of its planes encountered “perfect” conditions between Heathrow and Cardiff airport.

In an attempt to address criticism that the Government has been slow to respond to the crisis, Gordon Brown announced that two Royal Navy ships would be used to ferry stranded travellers back to Britain.

[British Navy Ships] HMS Ark Royal and HMS Ocean will be made available for the relief effort, Mr Brown said, after a meeting of the emergency planning committee Cobra in Whitehall.

EU ministers were due to hold emergency talks later on Monday to try to find a European-wide solution to the crisis which forecasters warn could last all week.

The cloud of ash is expected to reach the eastern Canadian coast on Monday night and may not dissipate until Saturday.

Airtraffic controllers have extended a ban on flights over Britain until 1am Tuesday at the earliest.

“Conditions around the movement of the layers of the volcanic ash cloud over the UK remain dynamic,” said a spokesman for Nats, the air traffic control company.

“We are working closely with Government, airports and airlines, and airframe and aero engine manufacturers to get a better understanding of the effects of the ash cloud and to seek solutions.”

Authorities were also criticized for imposing rules which were based on theory rather than practical evidence.

Giovanni Bisignani, director-general [of] the International Air Transport Association [the airlines’ trade body] was scathing about the European response to the ash cloud.

“This is a European embarrassment and it’s a European mess,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today program.

“It took five days to organize a conference call with the ministers of transport[ation]. Europeans are still using a system that’s based on a theoretical model, instead of taking a decision based on facts and risk assessment.

“This decision (to close airspace) has to be based on facts and supported by risk assessment. We need to replace this blanket approach with a practical approach.”

The chaos caused by the eruption of an Icelandic volcano, now entering its fifth day, has left more than one million British travellers stranded abroad.

The unprecedented disruption to airline passengers, which has threatened to leave schools closed and businesses without workers after the Easter holidays, has already cost the economy £500million and is costing airlines worldwide £130million a day.

While British airports remained closed on Monday several European airports opened including in Spain, Austria, Finland, Bosnia and Italy.

Dutch airports are due to reopen airspace on Monday morning while Germany will reopen this afternoon after opening 6 airports.

Airlines including Lufthansa, Air France and KLM joined BA in suggesting it may be safe for European governments to end the unprecedented closure of the region’s airspace.

European air control authorities have admitted that they have interpreted international guidelines “more rigorously” than [the] U.S.

“I do not think that Europe needs to be stricter than a country such as America, where you have a lot of volcanoes erupting. Those people have a lot of experience and do not close the whole airspace,” Camiel Eurlings, the Dutch transport minister, admitted. ….

But Tessa Jowell, the Cabinet Office Minister who will attend the Cobra meeting in Downing Street on Monday morning, denied that the Government had been too slow in its reaction to the crisis.

“This is obviously a serious crisis, it is putting thousands and thousands of people to enormous inconvenience and anxiety, and the Government has acted,” she [said].

“At every airport where there are likely to be UK citizens trying to return home there have been consular [embassy] staff.”

She added: “The Department for Transport with the Secretary of State, Lord Adonis, has been working round the clock, in order to try to make sure that, within the context of safety being the most important consideration, services can be restored to normal as soon as possible.

“I think everybody would understand that the overriding concern is safety of passengers.”

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis confirmed the Government was considering using Spain as a hub to repatriate UK citizens stranded abroad, with the help of the Royal Navy. …

“The problem we face is that this is a highly dynamic situation and we have to assess the forecasts there are,” he told the BBC’s Radio 4 program.

“The current rule we have, which flows from the manufacturers’ own guidance, is ‘any ash, don’t fly’.

That was now under review, said Lord Adonis.  Asked if the no-fly rule could be amended, he replied: “It is possible, but this depends upon discussions which are currently taking place as we speak. this depends on discussions with manufacturers.”

On Sunday Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive, joined four crew in a three-hour test flight from London, over the Atlantic, to Cardiff [Wales].

The flight, which took the aircraft out over the Atlantic Ocean, lasted two hours and 46 minutes with flying conditions described as “perfect”.

Engineers at the airline are studying the effects of the flight on engines before concluding whether it is safe to fly or not.

A BA spokesman said: “We would not be doing this if we did not think it was safe and didn’t have the necessary permission. We would not do anything which would jeopardize our crew or aircraft.”

The Dutch airline KLM had earlier carried out a test flight through the ash cloud over Dutch airspace.  A spokesman for the airline said: “We have not found anything unusual and no irregularities, which indicates the atmosphere is clean and safe to fly.” ……..

Lufthansa [German airline] also flew 10 aircraft from Munich to Frankfurt on Saturday with the blessing of the safety authorities.

A spokesman said: “We found no damage to the engines, fuselage or cockpit windows. This is why we are urging the aviation authorities to run more test flights rather than relying on computer models.”

Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, the Secretary General of the Association of European Airlines, said: “Verification flights undertaken by several of our airlines have revealed no irregularities at all; this confirms our requirement that other options should be deployed to determine genuine risk”.

Ryanair [Irish airline] has announced it was cancelling all scheduled flights to and from the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Poland and the Baltic States until 1pm British time on Wednesday.

Information appearing on telegraph.co.uk is the copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Telegraph. Visit the website at telegraph.co.uk. 

Questions

1. Why do European airlines say they are “embarrassed” by airspace closures?

2. How is British Prime Minister Gordon Brown attempting to assist British travelers stranded outside of England?

3. Why are European authorities being criticized regarding their reason for closing airspace?

4. a) Define ‘blanket’ used as an adjective in para. 14.
b) How should the blanket approach to closing airspace be changed, according to Mr. Bisignani of the International Air Transport Association?

5. a) People from all over the world are stranded due to the airspace closures. How many British travelers are unable to get home?
b) How has/will the disruption to airline flights affect Great Britain?

6. British airports remained closed on Monday. Which countries opened or will open their airports today?

7. a) Name the airlines that say it may be safe for European governments to end the airspace closures.
b) For what reason do these airlines say the airspace should be re-opened? Be specific.

8. If you were stranded in an airport for days, and the airlines were willing to fly, would you get on a plane based on their test flights before the ash subsided? Explain your answer.


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Resources

Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Europe.

Watch a video of the volcano in Iceland below: