Branson and O'Leary 'were wrong' to deny ash-cloud risk
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Tuesday 26 April 2011
Air traffic controllers were right to close European airspace last year over fears of the ash plume from an erupting Icelandic volcano, a study has found.
Despite protestations from airline bosses last April that it would have been safe to continue flying, samples of ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano taken at the time of its eruption have led scientists to conclude that serious structural damage to aircraft could have occurred if passenger planes had continued to fly.
Tests on the ash revealed that it contained minute particles of glass so sharp and abrasive they could have damaged the exposed surfaces of any aircraft, including the engines and cockpit windows.
The volcanic eruption last April caused havoc for up to 10 million airline passengers around the world because of the extensive closures of European airspace, the largest shutdown of air traffic since the Second World War.
Some airlines criticised civil aviation authorities for the shutdown. Ryanair's Michael O'Leary said at the time that "there was no ash cloud. It was mythical. It's become evident the airspace closure was completely unnecessary... none of us could see a bloody thing." He added: "Some idiot in a basement in the Met Office in London spills coffee over the map of Europe and produces a big black cloud."
Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, described the closure as a "gross over-reaction to a very minor risk" and Virgin boss Richard Branson described the final set of closures as "beyond a joke". It is estimated the airlines lost about £2bn.
The study by Sigurdur Gislason and colleagues at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik was based on an investigation of ash samples sent to a laboratory in Denmark for detailed microscopic analysis.
The scientists found that even after the particles had been mixed continually in water for two weeks, they retained their ability to be dangerous to exposed aircraft surfaces.
"The particles of explosive ash that reached Europe in the jet stream were especially sharp and abrasive over their entire size range," the scientists say in their study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"The very sharp, hard particles put aircraft at risk from abrasion on windows and body and from melting in jet engines," the scientists said. "Concerns for air transport were well grounded."
The scientists cite the instance of a British Airways 747 which suffered potentially catastrophic damage when it flew through an ash cloud from the 1982 eruption of Mount Galunggung in Indonesia.
All four engines failed as a result of melted ash on the aircraft's turbine blades; the pilot restarted three of them after descending.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Rihanna 'nude pictures' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 iOS 8 apps and features: eight iPhone settings you need to look at after you install the update
- 3 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 4 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 5 Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...
£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...
Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...
£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...