Outlook The great British airspace shutdown has been a fascinating case study in regulation – and the response to it. When the Civil Aviation Authority first declared the UK a no-fly zone at the end of last week, its safety-first approach was universally applauded, even by the airline and travel industries. It was only when these businesses began to feel the financial effects of the shutdown that they began squealing – louder and louder as the bill escalated.
In taking the action it did, the CAA followed the internationally agreed guidelines on volcanic ash clouds. In addition, it ensured that with a real live cloud to explore (the rules had previously been based on theory rather than practical experience) research was done with test aeroplanes carrying sophisticated equipment (as opposed to British Airways' more basic test flights). When the evidence allowed, the CAA was eventually able to relax the restrictions and re-open Britain's airports.
We have regulators for a reason: they are there to curb the raw commercial instincts of the free market, to guard against potentially damaging short- termism and to enforce the rules agreed by the rest of us with vigour. On each of these requirements, the CAA has done its job and the carping of those whose noses have been put out of joint by that should be seen for what it is.