Confusion over Volcanic Ash

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano last year, Iceland (Image Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory)

It seemed quite simple when I got up this morning. Flights into Scottish airports would be disrupted due to the ash cloud emanating from the Icelandic volcano we can pronounce, Grimsvotn, and spread southwards.
Except that isn’t what’s happening. Some airlines are flying and some have been advised (“ordered” seems to be the real meaning of the word for Ryanair by the IAA – Irish Aviation Authority) not to. In the UK the CAA has said airlines can decide for theselves but if they fly, they must seek their approval. So for the passenger this is a mess. One easy to understand policy would be better than umpteen different ideas. Flybe has had a flight from Birmingham to Glasgow land at Glasgow this morning and a flight to Dalaman in Turkey took off from Edinburgh just before 10.15.
The disruption today will be compounded by how airlines and airports communicate with their passengers. I can already see the media dragging out stories from people who will say “Nobody is telling us what is going on.” Airlines might have learnt from last time but what’s the betting they haven’t?
At Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness airports, flights through the day are still scheduled so it looks as though delays and cancellations are likely to come at the last moment making it doubly inconvenient for passengers. Uncomfortable waits at the airport when they could have stayed at home and uncomfortable in not being able to work out what is going on.
One reason airlines are going to be reluctant to cancel is because they have a liability under EU law – the snappily named EU261/04 – to provide compensation and refunds. If a flight is delayed rather cancelled then a lower amount of compensation is payable.
Airlines complain bitterly that they should not be responsible for an act of God, only for those things that they can control. The EU is going to revisit the rules but not yet. For this eruption, provided you can afford to hang around, the airlines will look after you. But if you need to get on and use other means of transport, much of it – if not all – will be at your expense as I found last year when I needed to get from Glasgow to London (twice!) and I ended up buying expensive train tickets.
Just after 11am Ryanair called on the authorities to re-open air space saying that a test flight through Scottish airspace found no evidence of ash. Well of course it wouldn’t. The ash is now forecast to arrive this aftrenoon. But that does mean airspace could have been open this morning. The interesting thing is that the Irish Aviation Authority seems able to order Ryanair (and other Irish airlines) but the CAA only advises. Using language only this airline uses, it says that the UK’s Met Office forecasts are “totally unreliable.”
UPDATE: 14.45
This disruption is beginning to become farcical with the UK Transport Secretary saying that the Ryanair flight didn’t fly through the ash and didn’t carry the “right” measuring instruments. Another Ryanair flight has taken off from Prestwick to fly through the ash and IATA says that the one plane that the CAA has for monitoring the situation can’t fly. Talk about children throwing their toys about! Aberdeen Airport has re-opened and Ryanair has sought the permission of the IAA to fly this afternoon
UPDATE 16.00
Ryanair has been refused permission by the IAA to fly to Scotland fly and it looks as though there will be few flights to and from Scotland for the rest of the day. There’s a strange one at Cardiff where a flybe Paris flight has been cancelled both (incoming and outgoing) supposedly due to the ash. It looks as though there is less ash being emitted and things may be improving. The BBC website has a man from Orkney saying there is ash on the cars at Lerwick. There are reports that flights to and from some German, Danish and Norwegian airports might be affected tomorrow.
UPDATE 25th May, 07.15
Much of UK and Irish airspace is getting back to normal. There will be delays today but nearly all flights should get away. Hamburg and Bremen airports are closed in northern Germany and there is a chance that airports in Berlin and Hanover may close as well later in the day. The Daily Express and the Daily Mail note that it is half term next week and there could be more problems then but, at the moment, that seems scaremongering. There seems to be lots of criticism of David O’Leary at Ryanair for suggesting he knows more about safe flying than the authorities.

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