Eyjafjallajökull – a bit of a nuisance

It all started out as a bit of a joke really. Those Icelandic chaps up to their usual jolly japes, this time activating a volcano buried under 200m of glacial ice to see how high the explosion would go. Nothing to adventurous for them, all part of being Icelandic. When you spend your life cooped up on a barren rock it’s important to let off a little steam.

As we now know though, this little adventure might just turn out to be one of the biggest news stories of the year as the disruption to air traffic exceeds that of 9/11. At last count there were 10,000 airports closed throughout Europe and 23 million people stranded in one place or another. (stats from DIYstats.com) Just looking at my own personal connections –

  • A mate of mine is stranded at a hotel near the airport in Shanghai, which would be bad enough without the added frustration that his boss is not a Formula 1 fan and so has arranged factory visits instead of tickets to the Chinese Grand Prix (won by two Brits which must make it triple annoying!).
  • I spoke on Friday to a client in London who sits next to their travel department. He says they have being going potty trying to work it all out and have been shocked by how the prices of other means of transport have been skyrocketing, trains in particular – website goes offline for a moment and when it comes back the prices have doubled or worse!
  • Another client was stranded in Munich end of last week and unable to return to the UK. He stayed in Munich until Saturday in the hope of clear skies but when it was clear nothing was happening he joined forces with other strandees and took a taxi to Brussels followed by another taxi (that had come over from the UK) from there to Heathrow. We estimate from adding up all the costs of this long story that it cost him over a thousand quid to get home!
  • Some of my team unable to get to a meeting in Bucharest although not a problem because nobody else can get there either.

I confess I’m a bit confused by it all though. I saw a graphic that I have now lost showing how a plane looks after it flies through a cloud of volcanic ash. Bit of a mess really, all covered in grey crap and hurtling toward the ground with dead engines and pilots recording things like “Oh my God, a volcanic ash cloud!!!”. It was scary stuff and so you can understand why NATS are so cautious. On the other hand, I’ve been watching Russian and Ukrainian jets landing in Krakow and reading about how KLM, Lufthansa, Air France, Air Berlin and Ukraine Air have done test flights with absolutely no problems and so are now demanding the skies be opened up again.

“The eruption of the Icelandic volcano is not an unprecedented event and the procedures applied in other parts of the world for volcanic eruptions do not appear to require the kind of restrictions that are presently being imposed in Europe,”

I’m no aviation expert but here’s a suggestion – fly a bit lower if you’re really worried about the monster at 10,000 m! Whenever I fly, there does appear to be an awful lot of spare room between the ground and normal cruising altitude.

People are stranded. Airlines are losing around $200 million a day and some of them must be really close to disappearing altogether. I hope this isn’t someone’s idea of a joke. By all accounts this volcano has a habit of blowing for nearly two years solid, plus there’s its sister volcano, Bjork, that has a habit of blowing just after Eyaflippinjoker has done and at about 10 times the strength so unless we want to got back to the days of low flying props we really do need to get a grip on this volcanic ash gig.

Is this another Swine Flu? Something with a tiny chance of actually killing people that has been blown out of proportion by Elf n Safety jobsworths?

One last thing, is there any way we can move Iceland somewhere else? It’s starting to annoy me.

15 thoughts on “Eyjafjallajökull – a bit of a nuisance

  1. Don’t move Iceland! Its chief export is volcanoes and uhhh Björk. Without those things in our faces we’d forget about Iceland completely and that’d be unfortunate probably.

    PS: Umlats rule.

  2. …only smaller and more volcanic.

    Residents of the Shetland Islands reported a terrible smell of bad eggs. Turns out that’s from Iceland as well! ;)

    I mean, apart from being a useful place to record episodes of Top Gear…what is the place good for?

  3. I’m no aviation expert but here’s a suggestion – fly a bit lower if you’re really worried about the monster at 10,000 m!

    The air at 10,000m is less dense than at 3,000m. We had a case on Saturday of an Aeroflot plane from Moscow en route to Rimini. Air Traffic Control warned the pilot to descend to 3,000m to get under the cloud – which he did. Trouble was, you burn far more fuel trying to push your plane through all that thick, thick air at 3,000m. The plane had to force-land at Vienna as it was dangerously low on fuel.

    As a card-carrying EPWA Spottaz, we read the aviation forums and those in the know are debating about how much damage – short, medium and long-term – volcanic ash can do to the innards of jet engines. Props seem to be OK, as the props carve their way through the ash, batting it clear of the intakes. So they say.

    Smolensk shows that when it comes to getting aloft, it is better to be safe than sorry.

  4. gast – I can live without aluminium! ;)

    Michael – but surely in circumstances such as this they should all be trying to get things moving again even if it does mean higher fuel costs? Must be better than losing millions a day, no?

  5. There is also the chance that they could fly into a cloud of ash that is invisible, so they have to be doubly careful.

    I would also wonder about the long-term damage from the sand-like, corrosive effects of the ash to the planes that continue to fly with engines that sustain mild, chronic damage over the next two years or so. A plane might suddenly decide its day had come mid-flight and without warning–who knows? This whole sand-ash thing is very scary, especially when you throw in “invisible.”

  6. The ash is not visible on the in-cockpit weather radar that most jets have. That right there is enough to keep me on the ground. There are also questions about potential damage to pitot tubes which assist in measuring air speed. Pitot tube failure is a suspected element in the Air France crash from Brazil.

    Yes, jets could fly at lower altitudes, but this introduces some additional issues. First, the ability to fly over bad weather is reduced. Second, airline dispatchers and controllers have to be able to adapt to changes in their usual routes. For example (hypothetical) a flight plan from Berlin to Kiev might usually overfly Warsaw. At 30,000 feet it’s no problem. But at 10,000 feet or lower, the plane now enters Warsaw terminal airspace. This means the controller for that sector now has an additional airplane to account for in order to ensure that it does not interfere with planes landing in or taking off from Okęcie. It becomes a workload issue for the controller. Or for the dispatcher if the flight files and follows an altered flight plan that avoids Warsaw. There are other issues with navigational aids and radars, but I’ll spare you.

    In the end, some flights could be operated at lower altitude, but it would be difficult to run a full schedule because of these systemic issues.

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