Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Never Mind: UK Scraps Plan to Resume Flights As New Ash Cloud Looms

[UPDATE: British Airways canceled all long-haul flights departing from the UK today and all long-haul flights scheduled to arrive in the UK before noon tomorrow.]

Britain postponed a plan to open its air space more generally to flights as the Iceland volcano pumped more ash into the skies.

According to this report today in the Times of London, "Airports in the south of the UK will remain closed until at least 7 p.m. and British Airways abandoned plans to operate some short-haul flights. Glasgow and Belfast, which briefly reopened this morning, both shut by the afternoon."

This, alas, is going to be the situation for weeks, if not months, for air travelers in Europe if that Iceland volcano, Eyjafijallajokull, keeps erupting on and off, as has been its habit in previous major eruptions.

Worse, there's a bigger and more dangerous volcano just to the east of Eyjagfijallakull that has had an unfortunate tendency to erupt soon after its smaller neighbor does. Its name is Katla, which at least has the virtue of being easier to spell. Let's hope we don't have to spell that one too often, though.

[Hey, remember the good old days when the toughest foreign spelling journalists had to learn was Chiang Kai-shek?]

See my column in today's New York Times for a hint on how many business travelers, corporations and others stuck in the air-travel shutdown are finding alternatives using teleconferencing.

By the way, there is continuing controversy surrounding two private companies that have been setting the response-agenda in Britain - NATS, the privatized national air travel service, and the Met Office, which is in effect Britain's weather bureau. It's also a private company.

Both are under fire for using computer models to project ash-cloud patterns without supplementing the computer projections with real flight tests in the skies. NATS, for one, has been criticized for overreacting. The computer models used for the evaluations of the ash cloud are based on incomplete science and limited data, according to Matthias Ruete, the European Union's director-general for mobility and transport, quoted in the Financial Times newspaper yesterday.

In Britain, the Met Office, which defends NATS in this situation, is largely a province of meteorologists, rather than hard-core academic scientists.

Some weeks ago, a fascinating story in the New York Times described the conflict over global warming between meteorologists and climate scientists.

That story mentions a new study by George Mason University and the University of Texas showing TV meteorologists', let us say casual, attitudes toward climate science. Two-thirds of the TV weather people surveyed don't believe that global warming/climate change is caused by human activities.

Of course, most "meteorologists" (and being one requires merely a bachelor's degree, if that), are local television-news performers whose main focus is enhancing their own celebrity, with hand-puppets if ratings demand.



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