20 April 2010

The UK Government vs the Will of Willie Walsh

This whole episode fascinates me. The issues confronting the decision makers are very complex and not easy to discern and that is before making decisions.

It seems pretty evident that BA management took a calculated risk that the government and its various organs could be manipulated if presented with a fait accompli. This is exactly what they did. They carefully planned how they could make the UK airspace open. Considering the evidence in front of them there was a relatively low risk. In my humble and not very educated opinion there was minimum risk at any time to the passengers. If anyone didn't want to take the flight they could exit and not step on the aircraft. Lufthansa decided yesterday to start flights against the advice of their authorities - again with minimal risk. In doing so they forced their government's hand. BA therefore made the same decision (albeit a little more hurriedly. So with 28 or so aircraft that headed north or eastwards - the aircraft duly arrived over UK airspace. Finally some time around 2000 the UK Government and NATs agreed to open the UK airspace. However by then some of these planes were already out of fuel and landing in a wide variety of places - BRU, SNN, CDG amongst others. A few brave souls who had put on extra fuel and had the temerity to wait it out started to arrive to a closed UK Airspace. The first to actually land was BA84 from Vancouver and it circled over the Isle of Man for nearly 90 mins before finally making its way and landing before the scheduled opening of the airspace.

The rest is history.

Now we have the UK government in the form of lord Adonis playing damage control.(As an aside here is a definition...Myth & Legend / Classical Myth & Legend.. Greek myth a handsome youth loved by Aphrodite. Killed by a wild boar, he was believed to spend part of the year in the underworld and part on earth, symbolizing the vegetative cycle...) given his political gyrations perhaps not such an inapt name...

But beware ... the issue of the aircraft and the damage remains an unknown quantity.

So indulge me a little here and let me make a plea to the whole industry. We don't know enough and we are not doing enough to measure the ash cloud and its impact. The one or two empirical evidence sources we have are not enough to draw on conclusively. We should be sending aircraft into the cloud in the same way we have hurricane hunter aircraft. Not enough study of this phenomenon is being made.

For some results taken a few days ago by a German research aircraft go here:

At the very least this aircraft D-CMET and its UK counterpart D-CALM should be up there testing the atmosphere every day.

Clearly the current rules are not adequate and we are not doing enough to coral the issues into cogent decisions.

Whether Willie and his boys are right or wrong is not the issue. It is whether we know enough to let them be right or wrong. To err is human to forgive divine but not over the souls of innocent passengers either today or at some point in the future if an engine that wears out prematurely breaks down.

Cheers - I hope

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