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The ash cloud has been a major topic of discussion amongst the aviation fraternity over the last week. And now the airlines are flying again questions are being asked about the decision to ban all flying.
The major disruption caused during the ban on flying has been catastrophic for travelers and businesses. But is anyone to blame?
Obviously, as I have explained in a previous article, there are some real dangers presented to aircraft from volcanic ash. Nobody can be blamed for a volcano.
Not even the Icelandic bank.
But there seems to have been some serious flaws in the system of disaster management and no apparent subsequent damage limitation planning.
The fact is that it was known the cloud was at 20,000 feet. Below the cruise level of most jet aircraft. And we are now discovering that the quantity of ash was so dispersed it may not have presented much of a problem for the limited time aircraft would be passing through 20,000 feet.
My oppinions on the inevitable blame game are as follows:
The aviation authorities
The authorities have acted in the best interest of safety and their statement was simply put: “All commercial airspace its closed until …” And issued a time. This was simply repeated over and over again leaving people non the wiser. Travelers stayed put, wrongly assuming they could be flying home tomorrow. This scenario continued for too long without enough information. There are a number of issues here.
Firstly, the CAA should have issued a statement along the following lines: “commercial travel that might be affected by the ash clouds must find suitable diversions to bring travellers closer to their homes. The airways directly affected by the ash will remain closed until we are satisfied that there is no risk to air traffic.”
The authorities and the airlines should then have collaborated to organise an hourly air testing program. The claim that there are too few aircraft to test the atmosphere was fictitious. There are many aircraft around the world with suitable equipment. It would only have taken 48 hours to amass a number of equipped aircraft. This action was suitable given that the situation was fast becoming a crisis. Even military drones, that I often see flying, could have been retro fitted in a matter of days.
The authorities and the airlines should also have formated stratergies that utilise the many airports suitable for diversion around Southern Europe where poeple had the option of alternative travel.
The Met Office.
The met office is responsible for issuing weather reports suitable for aviation. It is now a legal requirement for pilots to abide by the information given in the TAFS, the forecasts issues by the Met Office.
The problem is that the TAFS are only 40% accurate and the Met Office is notorious for covering their assess with pessimistic forecasts. Even I, a mere flight instructor, use the TAFS only as a guide. Four out of five times I am flying in perfect conditions when the forecast was appalling. One in ten times I cancel due to poor weather that was not predicted.
The point I am making is that, despite their best efforts the Met Office is unreliable. This is not a criticism, simply an observation. It is true that farmers and pilots are better forecasters than anyone working at the Met Office. And that there are many jokes about the Met Office. In fairness, the weather is pretty random, especially in the UK.
But, if we all know how unreliable the Met Office is, then an assumption that they are correct is very costly. Which brings me back to the necessity of practical air quality checks.
Ah yes, the good old useless government. Too worried about the elections in the UK. But there are plenty of governments I hear you say, why blame the Brits. Yes but it is the British authorities that control the busiest airspace in the world.
This is not a political rant. Not today, but let’s face it, was anything actually done? No.
Gordon brown, was once again happy to let things go critical before he acted. Even now he could bring in emergency powers that force airlines to prioritise bringing travelers home before the resume business as usual. Useless man.
I am bias in my opinion here. Of course I am. And I want a job with one so I can’t rant about the airlines. Naturally I am going to say that the airlines acted responsibly and have done as well as they can in difficult times. The sensible airlines will have undertaken any maintenance to aircraft while the fleet was grounded and hopefully purchased ten years of fuel supplies while crude was at $86 a barrel. I know of at least one Irish man with the gumption to take advantage of a crisis for his airline.
Out of frustration the airlines took it into their own hands to do flight trials. It should never have come to that.
So all in all, the crisis was handled badly by everyone involved. Except the airlines who did as they were told despite the cost.
I flew every day, and only once observed any thing that could have been dust, but no more than flying any day in and out of an airport in Arizona where dust is often visibly airborne.
The air incidents that have historically happened as a result of ash have been when aircraft have flown directly through the plume at night.
Pilots have an ancient aviation saying that goes, “look outside”.
A wise flight instructor once said, “If its big, black, scary looking, with a volcano underneath, then go around it.”
– Post From My iPhone
Volcanic ash is bad news for pilots.
Today air travelers have not been able to fly. Here’s why.
Volcanoes can cause major problems for aeroplanes. Most people associate flying blobs of molton rock, known as bombs, and massive plumes of smoke with erupting volcanoes. Pilots obviously avoid these hazardous conditions when flying! But a real threat to aircraft, particularly jets, is much more subtle, in the form of volcanic ash.
Volcanic ash is not carbon particles, like smoke. It is actually made up of tiny particles of volcanic rock. The silicates in the rock can even turn to glass as it rapidly cools and interacts with the atmosphere!
Volcanic pumice is particularly abrasive, great for treating corns on your feet, but not so great when millions tiny particles of the rock are speeding through the finely engineered components of a jet engine. It can even etch the cabin windows, ruining the view.
Because the particles of rock are so small they easily melt in the combustion chamber of the jet and then cover the moving parts with a ceramic layer.
The dust that makes it through the bleed air systems that pumps air into the cabin, can damage electronic systems and even be trodden into the carpet. All in all, it is better not to fly through the stuff. Aircraft and volcanic ash are just not compatible.
Because volcanic ash is so light weight and is carried up high into the atmosphere by the volcano’s eruption, it remains suspended in the air at high altitude, just where the passenger jets are designed to be flown. In this case the ash is at around 20,000 feet.
It is for this reason air traffic has been stopped in areas that are affected by plumes of volcanic ash, which can be blown by the upper winds for hundreds of miles.
What is an ASHTAM?
NOTAMs are Notes to Airmen that are issued by the civil air authorities. An ASHTAM is a notice to pilots about the threat of volcanic ash. These are not uncommon around the world but don’t usually effect Europe or the UK.
What goes up must come down?
Gravity eventually brings the larger particles to earth but the smaller particles can remain aloft indefinitely.
This dust contributes to our weather in a very important way. It becomes what is known as condensation nuclei. Water that has evaporated into the air must condense on a particle of dust before it becomes a droplet. Without dust clouds would’t form. So volcanoes are actually an essential part of our atmospheric system. That’s the good news. The bad news, apart from grounding aeroplanes, is that excessive quantities of dust can change the weather patterns, especially during a British summer. Yep, it could mean even more rain.
Here’s an extract from wikipedia about ash: Air Safety
“There are many instances of damage to jet aircraft from ash encounters. In one of them in 1982, British Airways Flight 009 flew through an ash cloud, lost all four engines, and descended from 36,000 ft (11,000 m) to only 12,000 ft (3,700 m) before the flight crew managed to restart the engines. A similar incident occurred on December 15, 1989 involving KLM Flight 867.
With the growing density of air traffic, encounters like this are becoming more common. In 1991 the aviation industry decided to set up Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs), one for each of 9 regions of the world, acting as liaisons between meteorologists, volcanologists, and the aviation industry”
An interesting fact.
One volcanic eruption spews more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than mankind will fore the next ten thousand years!
The problem is not our Co2 emissions but that mankind has cut down the forests, natures method of absorbing the Co2.
Should we be worried?
The ash cloud could create problems for a quite while if the volcano continues to erupt and the winds carry the dust over Europe. There are, however, no health risks to people on the ground. The larger particles that fall to earth are too big to affect the lungs, and the smaller particles will only come down with rainfall. So there’s nothing to worry about unless you are stuck somewhere!
– Post From My iPhone