Wednesday, May 25, 2011

IATA says Volcanic ash handling shows inconsistent state decisions on airspace management

Neelam Mathews
New Delhi
Time:10;00 am IST

It is reassuring to see that International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said it is encouraged by the improved coordination of European authorities so far in managing its airspace in light of the Grimsvotn volcanic eruption.
Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary has said restrictions on flights in and out of Scotland are unneccessary and a test flight which travelled between the affected airports yesterday was not affected:
"There is no evidence of any volcanic ash. We inspected the aircraft, the wings, the engine, on landing – nothing," said O’Leary to BBC. Ryan Air’s view and other airlines view is that the UK met charts are unreliable. This was rubbished by CAA Transport Secretary Philip Hammond that the ash cloud spreading from an Icelandic volcano does not exist.
Hammond said the information he had seen regarding the Ryanair flight suggested it "did not actually fly in any areas" where ash was expected.
This bickering can continue even as IATA, has cautioned that the absence of a formal agreement at the political level to respond in a coordinated and harmonized manner leaves passengers and shippers vulnerable to fragmented decision-making.
“Safety is always our top priority and without any compromise….. Grimsvotn is also a dramatic reminder of the disappointing lack of progress at the political level on the Single European Sky. The potential for a patchwork of inconsistent state decisions on airspace management still exists because there is a major disconnect between the improved process and state decisions on airspace availability,” says Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
The 2010 volcanic ash crisis  resulted inconvenience to passengers in unnecessary blanket airspace closures because European states took uncoordinated decisions based on a theoretical ash dispersion model with no empirical testing.
Over the last year the European Commission, working with European agencies, including Eurocontrol and airlines, developed a new approach which recommends that:
  • States should not implement blanket closures of airspace
  • Regulators should accept the capability of airlines to conduct their own safety risk assessments prior to flight in any ash affected area.
Bisignani criticized the UK for the UK test aircraft not being available. In a letter to Philip Hammond, UK Secretary of State for Transport, Bisignani said, “I am very concerned to learn that the CAA aircraft is unavailable. It is astonishing and unacceptable that Her Majesty’s Government cashes GBP 3.5 billon each year in Air Passenger Duty but is incapable of using a small portion of that revenue to purchase another Cessna to use as a back-up aircraft. I ask please that you ensure that all possible efforts are made to get the existing aircraft operational in the shortest possible time.”
European Transport Ministers should formally agree their determination to avoid a repeat of the 2010 chaos by embracing a common process based on airline safety risk assessments for determining whether and when it is safe to fly.  And Europe must urgently follow-up on its promise from last year to accelerate the Single European Sky and ensure that safe airspace remains open for business,” said Bisignani.
It is estimated that the mismanagement of 2010 volcanic ash crisis cost airlines $1.8 billion in lost revenues and cost the global economy as a whole $5 billion.

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