Sunday, April 18, 2010

Britain cut off, but Dunkirk spirit still alive

Flights in or out of the UK are banned for a fourth day due to the alleged effects of dust from the Icelandic volcano. Flight restrictions have been just been extended until midnight tonight, with suggestions that they could extend for "several more days". Britain is virtually cut off, with the Channel Tunnel and ferries to and from continental Europe fully booked. There is talk of an economic disaster, with some European airlines in serious financial difficulties as a result. Tens of thousands of people are stranded, unable to get home from their Easter holidays and facing financial ruin, loss of pay and even the loss of their job as a result. Travel insurance companies in most cases are refusing to pay out for additional accommodation or the cost of returning by alternative means.

However, the Dunkirk spirit is not dead. Just as in 1940 when Brits with small boats went across the Channel to bring our defeated troops back, TV presenter Dan Snow is today mounting an operation with inflatable craft to bring stranded Britons back from Calais to Dover. You couldn't make it up. (Postscript: The attempt was halted by authorities, presumably for health and safety reasons. Oh well. Nice try.)

It is reported that the Dutch airline KLM has flown a Boeing 737 to 13km over Dutch skies with no adverse effects, whilst Germany's Lufthansa has flown several planes from Frankfurt to Munich without any harm being caused to the windows, fuselage or engines. But Dutch and German airspace are also closed for the time being. However the Ukrainian International airline - which coincidentally Olga used on her recent trip to Ukraine - is to recommence flights at 0900 UTC today as it believes the skies are safe. Hooray for the Ukrainians! At least someone has some sense.

According to some aviation experts, the only time aircraft have suffered from volcanic ash is when they flew right through a plume of it as the volcano was erupting. The ash here is so thin that you can see the moon and stars when the sky is clear. Isn't this just another case of out-of-control safety mania, with bureaucrats being afraid to make any decision that just might lead to them being blamed later on, regardless of the probability of risk? Isn't it time for someone to use some common sense?


M0JEK said...

I just like the peace and quite for a change. It has been lovely out in the garden with out noisy jet aircraft flying overhead.

Gav Stirling (GM0WDD) said...

Some interesting viewpoints, if a little naive.....

So KLM flew up to 41,000ft and Lufthansa positioned aircraft from MUC to FRA. What did it actually prove? Nothing. None of the aircraft were fitted with any scientific equipment to measure the contaminent. All their (publicity) flights showed were that the airspace that they flew in had no contamination. Can KLM, LH or you state that in 4 hours later when a jet carrying 150 pax goes through the same area it will pass through non contaminated air? Nope.

Nobody said aircraft would fall out of the sky. However the ash melts in the combustion chamber and can stick or block airflow holes. This raises the temperature and reduces engine life.

Engine manufacturers have said zero volcanic ash contamination is the only is the only acceptable amount of contamination. The insurers won't pay up if something goes wrong.

It's not just engines, but other equipment such as pitot tubes. If they become blocked or even partially blocked it can lead to Unreliable Airspeed, something that is a difficult situation to manage. The Air France A330 that left Brazil is believed to have suffered Unreliable Airspeed and look what happened to that.

I am surprised that you are happy for your "nearest & dearest" to be flying at the moment. You say UIA believe the skies to be safe. Why is a commercial organisation stating this? Is it because 1/ they actually believe this or 2/ because they are losing money at an alarming rate?

Common sense or commercial profit? Is KLM CEO's interest in the long term health of his fleet or just this years bonus?

I've been sat on the ground for 5 days now, 5 days flight pay lost. However when the scientists tell me it is safe I've believe them. When my CEO tells me it's safe he better have the scientists data to back up his assertion.

Take Care.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comment, Gav. I take it you're a pilot, therefore I'm happy to acknowledge that you know more about this than me. But why would airlines be prepared to risk valuable aircraft, not to mention the adverse publicity and subsequent liability claims in the event of a disaster, if they thought there was a significant risk of one?

I admit my views are based largely on cynicism about the risk-averse culture we have nowadays. It's easier for a bureaucrat to err on the side of safety when they don't suffer the financial or personal consequences of that decision.

That risk-averse culture hasn't penetrated the former Soviet Union and I expect that's why Russian and Ukrainian airlines are flying and ours aren't. If pilots are willing to fly the planes, I'm happy to ride with them.

Gav Stirling (GM0WDD) said...

Well KLM and LH didn't fly through the plume. They avoided it. KLM went up to 41,000ft (max ceiling for a 737NG) and stayed there for an hour (BA did the same). The ash was only around 25,000ft.

All they proved was that where they flew was ok. No professional commentator ever said aircraft would fall out the sky. It's a pretty safe bet they were going to come back. The question is what damage did they do to the airframe or engine core? Deposits may have built up that have reduced engine life, defects may appear over the next few months or even not at all. But is it worth taking the risk with passenger safety or the future maintenance cost associated with reduced engine life?

There is nothing wrong with having a risk averse culture in aviation. So far I'd say it's saved thousands of lives (not ash related). Aviation is very boring, only because it's tightly controlled - but that's not a bad thing. Stops some of the more adventurous exploring the envelope with pax on board! Couple of phrases in aviation - "it's better to be down there wishing you were up there than up there wishing you were down there" and "where there is any doubt there is no doubt".

You're right the risk-averse culture may not have penetrated the former Soviet Union. But have a look at the hull losses and the safety record. Flying in the plume without any scientific data to base your assertion as to whether it's safe to fly is akin to having you and your passengers as test pilots/guinea pigs!

Take care!