'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?
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
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: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen