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