Another reminder that commercial aviation is fundamentally dependent on natural forces beyond our control: A massive, eastward-migrating ash cloud spewing from an Icelandic volcano is potentially playing havoc with European flights yet again.
The European Commission says the bad actor in this case is Grimsvötn.
“Volcanoes don’t obey any rules says,” European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas. “This is a situation that is evolving by the hour.”
And so it is that Eurocontrol reports early Tuesday, May 24 that airlines have axed more than 250 flights as the cloud continues to cover parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland. The ashen shroud could move on to envelop other sections of Europe – Scandinavia, northern Germany, even parts of France and Spain.
Contending that the EU has learned from past disruptive eruptions, Kallas says authorities “are in a much better position to manage the challenge of ash affecting Europe.”
Still, there’s this caveat: “As this situation evolves, this may still prove to be a very challenging week for passengers.”
The aim: avoid as far as possible closing airspace while maintaining safety.
That’s a tricky balance. Back on June 24, 1982, British Airways Flight 9 found itself enveloped by an ash cloud over Indonesia. All four engines of the Boeing 747 flamed out and suddenly the massive craft was a glider looking for a place to land. Eventually, the crew restarted three of the powerplants and landed safely. But it was a terrifyingly close call for the 248 passengers and 15 crew on board.
That’s the kind of thing airlines and regulators don’t want to repeat this time around. And that’s why, if you’re booked to travel the transatlantic anytime soon, you need to monitor your airline for flight delays or cancellations.
Story by Jerry Chandler
(Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)