Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Ash Cloud That Wasn't

Britain's airspace was closed under false pretences, with satellite images revealing there was no doomsday volcanic ash cloud over the entire country.
Skies fell quiet for six days, leaving as many as 500,000 Britons stranded overseas and costing airlines hundreds of millions of pounds.
Estimates put the number of Britons still stuck abroad at 35,000.

However, new evidence shows there was no all-encompassing cloud and, where dust was present, it was often so thin that it posed no risk.
The satellite images demonstrate that the skies were largely clear, which will not surprise the millions who enjoyed the fine, hot weather during the flight ban.

Jim McKenna, the Civil Aviation Authority's head of airworthiness, strategy and policy, admitted: 'It's obvious that at the start of this crisis there was a lack of definitive data. It's also true that for some of the time, the density of ash above the UK was close to undetectable.'

The satellite images will be used by airlines in their battle to win tens of millions of pounds in compensation from governments for their losses.

Daily Mail


  1. I have some sympathy here for the public officials who were responsible for these decisions.

    The public rhetoric around safety is 100% behind zero tolerance for risk, zero responsibility for consequences.

    If a plane had gone down, or even if some engines had been damaged, the 28 point headlines would have been screaming about negligent and corrupt officials risking innocents and babies in a push for "profit" and bowing to pressure from the corporate (airline) interests.

    At this point we all know the drill so well that I think any one of us could write that (counterfactual) newspaper story. Two cups of tea for Times style; cuppa joe and two pints of beer for Guardian style. It would make a nice writer's workshop exercise.

    There will be more events like this. The bureaucracy is no longer capable of making a rational decision on matters of public safety. Too many witch hunts have taught them to avoid all risk.

  2. I agree, Lady Red. Experience has shown that volcanic activity can cause major problems for planes. They won't know what is there until they know it is there.

    I find no fault here. Perhaps they only thing they could have done was to have observation planes monitoring the situation closely, ready to shut down air traffic very quickly. However, since these types of events are so infrequent, it would not be practical to have such a system in place.

    At least air traffic from Toronto to Vancouver was not shut down today, so Fay could make it home tonight!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Too many witch hunts have taught them to avoid all risk.
    Too true!
    It strikes me as a bit odd though that existing technology could have been used to keep those planes safe and well out of the way of that ash cloud, in addition to forming a policy for the planes very quickly.

  4. Had they opened the airspace, and a single plane crashed due to ingestion of volcanic dust, then the calls for criminal penalties of the aviation authorities would be even louder than the cries about loss of profit are now.