Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Volcano chaos is a lesson learned

No-one doubts that aviation authorities took the right decision to ban all flights when the pollution from the Icelandic volcanic eruption became apparent in European air space.

It is a mode of travel in which safety - as far as is humanly possible - must be guaranteed. It would have been unforgivable to take any risks with passengers' lives until all options had been carefully assessed.

Inevitably this meant huge disruption to travel plans with an estimated 150,000 people from the UK stranded abroad. There have been numerous stories of families and individuals with nowhere to stay, running short of money or desperately seeking alternative forms of transport to get them home. The Royal Navy has also been mobilised in an effort to mitigate the travel chaos.

As some UK airports and airlines prepare to begin services again today, weather permitting, there will be an inquest into how the emergency was handled. Some airlines which carried out test flights said they found no evidence of potential damage to aeroplanes, although even the most desperate passengers would have had second thoughts about boarding any flight until a general all-clear was given.

There was also the question if the pollution would have affected turbo-prop aircraft as opposed to jetliners. Some experts believe those aircraft could have coped with the particles thrown up into the atmosphere by the volcanic eruptions. While the initial blanket ban on flights was the only logical course of action, could later flights to southern regions of Europe have been permitted using lower flight paths until outside British airspace? This is not to point the finger of blame at the Government, the Met Office or aviation authorities. All acted in the best interest of passengers and of the airline industry. But in all emergencies the initial response can often be fine-tuned as time goes on. Perhaps lessons learned since last Thursday will be used to devise more sensitive responses in future.

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