Sunday, April 18, 2010

Aviation Industry in Europe Bridles Over Flight Shutdown and Demands Safety Reassessment

Told ya.

While the lockstep MSM were accepting official pronouncements at face-value and covering trivial anecdotal aspects of the air-travel shutdown in Europe (Oh look, someone's stuck in an airport! Oh my God, could this ash cause cancer? Let's speculate endlessly!), they missed the growing backlash among airlines in Europe and elsewhere about what some see as an overreaction to the volcanic-ash problem.

See my earlier posts, including the one headlined "Second Guessing on Shutdown of Air Traffic in Europe," in which the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, which represents Asian carriers, asked whether the shutdown was a "massive overreaction of supercautious politicians and bureaucrats who are more concerned about their own liability ..."

In Brussels today, European airlines and airports went public with their misgivings about the extent of the reaction to the Iceland volcano. They want the situation reassessed.

[Update -- According to a report in tomorrow's Financial Times, "Lufthansa, which says it is losing $34 million a day from the crisis, said it was 'scandalous' for authorities to have imposed the ban on what appeared to be limited data from computer images, rather than flights testing safety."]

"This is not sustainable. We cannot just wait till this ash cloud dissipates," the European Union transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, said at a press conference in Brussels.

Meanwhile, the statement from the Airports Council International Europe is below.

First, let me state again that volcanic ash is a grave peril to aircraft (see earlier post on the 1982 incident near Indonesia when volcanic ash shut down all four engines on a British Airways 747, which landed safely but severely damaged). No one is arguing for unsafe flying. If an aircraft were to go down because of flying through ash, the impact of the disaster would be incalculable, first of course on victims on the flight, but also on European aviation in general. On the other hand, there is growing concern that the Brits, who tend to have hair-triggers these days in response to perceived peril, overreacted -- followed then by the rest of the Europeans.

At any rate, here is the statement from ACI (Europe):

"Brussels, 18 April -- For the fourth consecutive day, airlines and airports
across Europe are facing the unprecedented closure of almost all the continent’s
air space, due to the threat of volcanic ash dispersion. The situation has resulted
in the total standstill of intra-European mobility by air, coupled with a huge ripple
effect on long-haul aviation to the US, Asia and elsewhere. With over 63,000 flights canceled since Thursday, many millions of passengers affected so far and
a devastating impact for the aviation industry, the consequences are now
expanding to the wider economy given the reliance of businesses on aviation.
While Europe’s airlines and airports consider safety to be an absolute priority,
they are questioning the proportionality of the flight restrictions currently
imposed. The eruption of the Icelandic volcano is not an unprecedented event
and the procedures applied in other parts of the world for volcanic eruptions do
not appear to require the kind of restrictions that are presently being imposed in

AEA and ACI EUROPE support the efforts initially deployed by the European
Commission, EUROCONTROL, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and
national authorities to gain control of the threat posed to safety, but call for an
immediate reassessment of the present restrictions at European level.
Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, Secretary General AEA said “Verification flights
undertaken by several of our airlines have revealed no irregularities at all; this
confirms our requirement that other options should be deployed to determine
genuine risk. For example, the FAA has a world-established process of identifying
clear no-fly zones. Airlines must be able to fly where it is safe to fly and make
decisions accordingly. It is what our passengers demand of us.

Olivier Jankovec, Director General ACI Europe commented, “With 313
airports paralyzed at the moment, the impact is already worst than 9/11. More
than 6.8 million passengers have been affected so far and European airports
have lost close to €136 million. Many thousands of passengers are still stuck at
airports because of this situation. While safety remains a non-negotiable priority,
it is not incompatible with our legitimate request to reconsider the present


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