Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An end to the ban

Now that the ban on UK airspace has been lifted, the recriminations have started.

British Airways chief executive, Willie Walsh, has accused the government and the UK air safety watchdog of imposing unnecessary hardship on hundreds of thousands of passengers. Aircraft and engine manufacturers have now changed their advice on commercial jets' ability to withstand contamination from volcanic ash clouds.

It isn’t all over yet though: airports warned that the new regime imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) could cause delays for several days, as airlines will be required to run ash-damage checks before and after flights, while hundreds of planes and thousands of crew members are out of position around the world.

A spokesman for BAA, the owner of Heathrow airport, said: "You cannot just close an airport for six days and then reopen without some hitches. It is an enormous logistical operation on the part of airlines and airports." BA said it would take "considerable time" to reinstate its full schedule, with around a third of its fleet and a quarter of its crew out of position. Nonetheless, it hopes to operate all long-haul flights from Heathrow and Gatwick today, along with a large number of short-haul cancellations.

EasyJet said it would reinstate some flights but it suspended online check-in and warned that flights will close one hour before departure.

Ryanair, Europe's largest short-haul carrier, was last night standing by plans to cancel north European flights until midday tomorrow and said it would not reimburse passengers' hotel and food costs – in contravention of EU guidelines.

It should come as no surprise to find that Britain took a heavy handed approach to the problem which has cost the country and the airlines dearly. It compares with the millions that the country spent on flu injections to fight a pandemic that hasn’t had the impact first supposed and is all part of the nanny state thinking that the Government have been embarking on for the last ten years or so.

Obviously it would have been highly irresponsible to put travellers at risk but clearly the Government and the UK air safety watchdog were not working from clear facts. Yet again, the Government were caught with their trousers down and did not know what to do.


Anonymous said...

I think you have been a bit harsh here, Keith. With both swine flu and the ash, the govt erred on the side of caution and I think this is understandable. The British press would have murdered Gordon Brown if there had been a disaster such as a plane coming down. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. Papers like the Mail, the Express and the Sun do not need much of an excuse to hammer Brown.
Enjoy your blog and read it most days.

Pete said...

Yep, the commenter above has nailed it with 'damned if they did and damned if they didn't'. There was no win to this situation, and when it comes to commercial air travel the authorities will ALWAYS take the safer option.

People are saying much about computer simulations, but there is no doubt that when the Finnish Air Force sent up a couple of F18 fighters to fly the ash cloud the engine inspection revealed beads of a glass like substance on the turbine blades - that wasn't simulated, the risk was very real.

The airlines are under massive commercial pressure to fly, so it is critically important that an independent body assesses the safety of the airspace.

You can draw analogies with the swine flu preparation and that is entirely valid, as without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I think the reactions to both situations whilst expensive and inconvenient were timely and proportionate.

Hopefully things will get back to normal soon. :)