Volcanic ash cloud update

AIRLINES have cancelled and delayed flights across Scotland and Northern England (UK) as a result of the spreading ash cloud from the Icelandic Grímsvötn volcano. Services have been affected by nervous airlines at the following airports: Barra, Carlisle, Cumbernauld, Durham Tees Valley, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Prestwick and Tiree.

However, some deny there is anything to worry about. Ryanair has already flown one of its Boeing aircraft through a ‘banned’ part of the cloud, apparently with no adverse effect on the engines.

The low-cost airline said in a statement: “There was no visible volcanic ash cloud or any other presence of volcanic ash, and the post-flight inspection revealed no evidence of volcanic ash on the airframe, wings or engines.

“The absence of any volcanic ash in the atmosphere supports Ryanair’s stated view that there is no safety threat to aircraft in this mythical ‘red zone’, which is another misguided invention by the UK Met Office and the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority].”

The CAA will deny Ryanair’s claims however as airlines are allowed to fly through medium or high ash concentrations, as long as their risk assessment shows sufficient cause for the flights.

Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said: “Airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority should be using the Grimsvötn ash cloud to launch test flights to verify the theoretical modelling of how ash clouds disperse.

“More test flights should be taking place. It’s only by flying up to these areas and measuring the amount of ash in the atmosphere and the way it accumulates in engines, that work can be done to prevent disruption to air travel due to volcanic ash in the future.”

Philip Hammond, the UK’s transport secretary, has promised there will be no blanket airspace closures, as happened last year.

Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of IATA, criticised the lack of a pan-European set of guidelines for flying through the cloud.

“We need a clear, consistent and appropriate response, which is workable for all airlines globally, not a repeat of the fragmented mess that happened last year,” he said.

That will be easier said than done considering the variables in any given ash cloud.

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