Ash costs cash

This first appeared as a Comment in the 2 September issue of Flight International

When Icelandic volcanic ash visited Europe’s skies in April 2010, it cost the continent’s economy at least €5 billion ($7 billion) – just by grounding most commercial aviation for a week. With seismic rumblings beneath Iceland’s fragile crust gathering strength, how much is Europe set to lose this time?
Lest we forget 2010, Europe’s then-director of air transport Daniel Calleja Crespo said airline direct losses were €1.7 billion, and 100,000 flights were cancelled with the loss of 10 million passenger journeys. Meanwhile, 313 European airports were totally immobilised, and as a result suffered a €317 million loss of revenue.
However, Europe has become more organised for ash since then. The distribution of ash cloud information and zoning will be co-ordinated and consistent this time, and the airlines will be left to make their own decisions – provided they have convinced their national aviation authority they have completed a volcanic ash risk assessment tailored to their own fleet. This is a fearsome responsibility, as ash cloud advice is a guide to where it is likely to be – but not precisely. Pilots can avoid visible ash in daylight when there is no cloud, because it tends to gather in patches and layers. Visible ash is the dangerous stuff. However, in cloud or at night it cannot be seen, and airborne detection systems are not yet available. So, there will still be considerable disruption, despite the lessons learned in 2010.

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