Volcanic ash is a new challenge for European aviation

Air Travel Crisis in Europe – Know & Claim Your Rights !!

This is very personal … family, friends and I myself … have all been caught, twisted and mangled by the current air travel havoc in Europe.  Catching a plane is stressful enough … the long queues … the security screening … the silly, ineffective regulations about liquids … the unbelievably high prices for everything at an airport (every airport !) … the marathon walks to departure gates … without having to endure the additional stress of not knowing whether the flight is on or off … and even IF you then get to your destination … not knowing whether the return flight will be on or off.


For an update on the Volcanic Eruption at Eyjafjallajökull, in Iceland … go to this Page on the Icelandic Meteorological Office WebSite … http://en.vedur.is/earthquakes-and-volcanism/articles/nr/1884

For an update on the Latest Atmospheric Observations, Forecasts and Satellite Imagery … go to this Page on the British Meteorological Office WebSite … http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/europe/volcano/volcano_blog.html

HOWEVER … to Know and Claim Your Rights, under European Union Law, during the volcanic ash crisis … go to this Page on the European Commission (DG SANCO) WebSite … http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/icelandic-volcanic-cloud/index_en.htm   It’s time to kick ass with the airlines !   And … that is exactly what happened with Ryanair in Italy, when it was fined €3 Million on 15th May 2010 !!!


IMPORTANT UPDATE … IATA Press Release #20, dated 18th May 2010 …

[ IATA (International Air Transport Association) represents approximately 230 airlines, comprising 93% of scheduled international air traffic.]

Geneva – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on European governments and air navigation service providers to urgently develop more precise procedures to identify ash contaminated air space and allow more flights.  The call came in the wake of 1,000 flight cancellations on Monday (17 May) as a result of the continued volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

“This problem is not going away any time soon.  The current European-wide system to decide on airspace closures is not working.  We welcome the operational refinements made by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres (VAAC) in their theoretical model, but we are still basically relying on one-dimensional information to make decisions on a four-dimensional problem.  The result is the unnecessary closure of airspace.  Safety is always our number one priority.  But we must make decisions based on facts, not on uncorroborated theoretical models”, said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Bisignani noted some successful exceptions which provide examples to follow.  “France has been able to safely keep its airspace open by enhancing the VAAC Data with operational expertise to more precisely determine safe fly zones.  Today, the UK Civil Aviation, working with the UK NATS (the air navigation service provider), announced another step forward by working with airlines and manufacturers to more accurately define tolerance levels while taking into account special operational procedures.  Both are examples for other European governments to follow”, said Bisignani.

Bisignani called for (1) more robust data collection and analysis; (2) a change in the European decision-making process; and (3) urgency in addressing the issues.

Data Collection & Analysis:  “Numbers show that the current system is flawed.  Over 200,000 flights have operated in European airspace identified by the VAAC as having the potential presence of ash.  Not one aircraft has reported significant ash presence and this is verified by post-flight aircraft and engine inspections.  We must back the theory with facts gathered by aircraft to test ash concentration.  France and the UK are showing that this is possible.  If European civil aviation does not have the resources, it should look to borrow the test aircraft from other countries or military sources”, said Bisignani.

Changing the European Decision-Making Process:  “We have lost confidence in the ability of Europe’s governments to make effective and consistent decisions.  Using the same data, different countries have come to different conclusions on opening or closing airspace”, said Bisignani.

“Ultimately the industry needs a decision-making process for ash clouds similar to the one used for all other operational disruptions.  Every day, airlines make decisions whether to fly or not to fly in various weather conditions.  Airlines collate the information available and make informed decisions placing safety first and with full access to all the latest weather reporting.  Why should volcanic ash be any different ?”, said Bisignani.

In the US, which has a lot of experience with volcanic activity, the government identifies a no-fly zone where ash concentration is the highest.  For all other areas, it is the responsibility of the airline to decide to fly or not based on the various data sources available.  “The US has well-established, safe and effective procedures for tracking the hazards of volcanic ash.  In recent years, the industry had no recorded safety incidents from volcanic activity in US airspace.  Europe has a lot to learn”, said Bisignani.

Urgency:  “Volcanic ash is a new challenge for European aviation.  We can understand that systems need to be developed to cope.  But, what is absolutely inexcusable is the failure of Europe’s governments to act urgently and collectively to provide real leadership in a crisis.  We have vast amounts of data from over 200,000 safe flights ready for analysis to support an urgent review of the current processes.  The UK is finally moving in the right direction.  But what about the other affected European governments ?  The next transport ministers meeting is scheduled for 24th June 2010.  What kind of leadership waits more than a month to make crisis decisions ?  European businesses are dependant on air travel and passengers certainly cannot wait that long for initiatives like the UK’s to be implemented continent-wide”, said Bisignani.

To enhance the industry’s long-term ability to address volcanic ash issues, Bisignani is travelling to Montreal for urgent meetings with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).  “IATA and ICAO have been working intensely on this issue since the crisis first struck in April, 2010.  IATA is strongly supporting the ICAO Task Force which is reviewing ash tolerance thresholds with states, operators, manufacturers and the scientific community.  The responsibility of manufacturers is critical in providing performance information to back decisions”, said Bisignani.

Tomorrow, Bisignani will meet Roberto Kobeh-Gonzales, President of the ICAO Council and Raymond Benjamin, ICAO Secretary-General.  “It is important that we act urgently and globally to better deal with this crisis and to lay a solid foundation for better decision making in future eruptions.  Even as Europe stumbles with its fragmented approach, IATA is working with the global community through ICAO and by tapping into the experience of leading regulators like the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to facilitate harmonized solutions”, said Bisignani.


Earlier Information Which Is Now Very Interesting !   … EEA Press Release, dated 23rd April 2010 …

Volcanic Ash is Having Little Impact on Europe’s Air Quality

Copenhagen – The European Environment Agency (EEA) is closely following the impacts of recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland, in particular assessing changes in ground-level air pollution.  According to preliminary monitoring data, ground-level air quality across Europe has not deteriorated significantly as a result of the volcanic activity.

Volcanic eruptions have the potential to inject substantial amounts of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ash into the atmosphere.  Volcanic aerosol, a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in the air, is created during eruptions and can be transported thousands of kilometres.  Particles in the volcanic aerosol may carry pollutants with the potential to harm human health and ecosystems.

So far, monitoring stations in Europe have only detected a few episodes of ambient air concentrations of particulate matter and sulphur dioxide of volcanic origin, in particular at elevated mountainous locations, for example at Zugspitze in Germany (2,659 m).  The threat to public health in the European Union is therefore considered minimal at present.

On Iceland, however, the situation is different: concentrations of particulate matter are markedly higher than usual in some areas.  That potentially represents a significant threat to humans and farm animals, according to the Icelandic Directorate of Health, which closely monitors pollution levels.

In Europe, rain and snowfall are expected to remove volcanic debris from the atmosphere.  Detecting this process requires the chemical content of precipitation to be analysed, which takes time.  Should these data indicate high pollutant levels, the current assessment of risk for human health and ecosystems may need to be reassessed.

The EEA maintains a public air quality information system, Air Watch, within its Eye on Earth Portal.  It displays near real-time measurements of concentrations of three air pollutants (ground-level ozone O3, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide NO2) from approximately 1,000 monitoring stations in 32 countries, as well as updates from citizens.

Because ambient air concentrations and fallout can vary across short ranges within Europe, the EEA also advises the public to refer to national or local air quality authorities, which may have additional or new information on local conditions.  Detailed information on national and local data providers is also available via Eye on Earth.