Thou shalt not fly in a Volcanic Ash Cloud


Before you read this: No, I am not arguing that we should be flying if there is danger. No, I do not believe that the authorities acted badly by cancelling flights last Thursday. Yes, I agree that environmentally London and Europe without air traffic is a marvellous thing!

Remember, I have no inside knowledge of the <a href=”http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/”>Met Office</a>, <a href=”http://www.nats.co.uk/”>NATS</a&gt;, any civil aviation authority, volcanology, meteorology or the aviation business at all. What I am is a questioning member of the public, stranded in London, but with wonderful friends supporting me such that it doesn’t matter that I never made my flights. So here’s what I question…From the public view it looks like this is what happened:

1. Met Office shows an Ash Cloud

This leads to:

2. NATS looking up the guidelines and saying “<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/world/europe/20melt.html”>No Tolerance on Volcanic Ash</a>”

Which leads to:

3. All airspace being closed

What it looks like to me is that there was almost a religious blind allegiance to science reports, previous guidelines and almost a “faith” in science by governments, official bodies and the media. At no time in the media or in the public or apparently behind closed doors until 5 days after it was all shut down were questions and communications happening. Where/when were the following questions being asked?

a. At what concentrations of volcanic ash will an engine fail? This is important, because if it means that one piece of dust is enough to destroy a plane then planes have been designed very poorly. More importantly it leads to answering “how much dispersion is required?” Now I know that if a plane flew into a flock of birds all engines might die, but do we stop flying because there are birds in the air?

b. Where are the concentrations of this ash? Reading the Met office web page their say their instruments can “detect” the ash but not tell the concentrations. So who was going up there to test it? Were they able to test it everywhere?

c. All reports indicate that the Met office was/is using computer modelling to predict the dispersion. What is the accuracy rate of these models? On what science is it based? I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m asking the question.

d. Airplane companies needed to ask the question of “What can we do to alleviate the situation?” This is an extraordinary situation and while the airlines did finally try flying in it, maybe the airlines could have thought of new solutions. Perhaps ferrying passengers to various locations. They are now doing that but, really… does it take 6 days for someone to come up with the solution?

All this seems to me as if a whole pile of bureaucracy never bothered to do proper science, proper questioning and certainly proper project and disaster management. Realistically, second day of such an event, all of these questions and thoughts should have been going in people’s heads.Look I don’t want to be flying if there is a danger, but flying *is* dangerous. There are many hazards out there, there are volcanoes in other parts of the world, there are other things that bring planes down. Just communicate that these questions are being asked and answered, that none of the answers are just guesses and guesstimates! The more that they are guesses the more likely none of us will fly to the UK or Europe again if the danger persists.

The biggest problem for me is not that this all happened, that no one was willing to question any official line, science, paradigm, statement or guideline. It’s almost like they are treating science as a religion: “Thou must not fly in Volcanic Ash”. I want the human species to question and complain, because through that comes innovation and advance, it’s how we got to having giant metal birds in the sky in the first place.Now, admittedly, the air in London is clean, it is a bright sunny day and no sound of thundering jets. I question the necessity of planes and I question whether we need such air travel, perhaps this will allow us the opportunity to have a look at other alternatives.

To those that say, “thank goodness there are no flights” that’s because you haven’t been disrupted. Yet. Our world is interconnected and we are able to do the things we do because of how we have run the world to this point. In that same vein, do not complain when economies crumble, when you get laid off, when things don’t arrive and when you cannot get the goods you want.

Nothing is isolated and the volcano and last year’s recession have shown that. If you are perfectly willing to go or have gone to a shopping mall and buy a rose for a loved one, then do not complain over air traffic. <a href=”http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100419/ap_on_re_af/af_kenya_volcano_flowers”>Roses in England almost all come from Kenya by air freight at this time of year</a>. And because of that, people in poor countries are laid off and worse is yet to come for them. This is the world that we have built

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