'Victory' means more passenger uncertainty – and threatens disruption at height of summer

Until six pm yesterday there was one group of airline passengers who enjoyed that rarest of aviation commodities: certainty. They were the British Airways passengers who knew that their flights had been cancelled by the impending cabin crew strike. Suddenly, BA won another injunction on a technicality in the ballot, and today 6.20 am to Manchester was back on the departure screen.

A victory for the airline? In the short term, undoubtedly. From the point of view of the members of Unite who are bankrolling the bitterest dispute in UK airline history, to lose two High Court cases on ballot irregularities may look like carelessness. But from the long suffering passengers' perspective the uncertainty has just got a whole lot worse. Cabin crew are likely to conduct, very carefully, a third ballot which in turn jeopardises the schedules for the peak months of July and August and if the BA strike does not get you the volcanic ash may well.

Sixty nautical miles translates as around 70 of the Imperial variety. In a compact and densely populated country such as Britain, that is a fair distance – quite enough, for example, to immobilise several airports if added to a forecaster's projection of the progress of a cloud of volcanic ash. Yet last week the 60 nautical mile "Buffer Zone" vanished overnight in a puff of ash from the aviation charts.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) made the move because there was "no scientific basis" for what it called an "arbitrary" belt to exist in the first place. Yet the Buffer Zone was established a month ago when the skies re-opened after the six-day shutdown. At the time, we were assured that only sound scientific evidence would be used to define the No Fly Zone that determined whether or not your business trip, family visit or holiday would go ahead.

Aviation safety is built on strictly enforced limits. From crosswinds to visibility and pilots' hours to the g-forces each seat must withstand, clear boundaries are specified – with a margin for safety built in. The UK airline industry's obsession with safety means restrictions are meticulously observed, which is why a Thomson flight from Lanzarote to Gatwick was allowed to land four minutes before the 1am deadline yesterday, but the wave of flights scheduled to follow just a few minutes later were not.

And what's wrong with that? After all, the very same regulators who some criticise for excessive caution are those who have helped ensure that Britain's air safety record is the envy of the world. What's wrong, from the perspective of the passengers left stranded by the present crisis, is that we are not convinced by the CAA's belt, braces and Buffer Zone approach to the issue. That attitude is unlikely to raise a smile from the bright men and women who map out the imagined progress of the poisonous pockets of ash. They will solemnly respond that they are working to the criteria agreed with airlines and manufacturers of engines and airframes.

Everyone accepts that the exact science of pure mathematics is all very well until you start applying it to the real world, and in particular the restless earth and four winds. In such circumstances, risk management is the most inexact of sciences. But the buffer zone of passenger tolerance is eroding fast. It may well be that we must, as the CAA has warned, jolly well get used to it. But we need to be convinced that the rules that are causing so much economic and emotional grief are less arbitrary than the Buffer Zone.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea