Simon Calder: High drama is a battle of competing interests

Related Topics

Every compelling drama has conflict at its root. You may mistakenly have concluded that the latest ash clash pits pilots and holidaymakers against volcanoes.

The real battle is between agendas. Each player has a wishlist. And they are all in opposition.

In the grey corner: the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The officials who are charged with the keeping the skies safe will naturally err on the side of caution. Last year, one official voice even insisted on the need for "complete safety" – which equates to no flying – and raised grumbles among some usual airline suspects about CAA standing for the Campaign Against Aviation. But earlier this month the CAA cited a study by Icelandic and Danish scientists that, it claims, vindicates the closure of much of northern Europe's airspace.

In another grey corner: the Government, which is keen not to make such an indigestible meal of the ash as the last lot. During the first ash crisis, it took days for the government to realise that what had begun as an inconvenience had degenerated into a humanitarian crisis. With the election campaign in full swing, the over-reaction in sending warships and fleets of coaches to Spain, just as the problem drifted away, would have been hilarious if were it not so expensive.

The Conservatives have realised that volcanic eruptions are as impossible to control as Liberal Democrats. With re-election at the top of the Tories' agenda, they have concluded that managing expectations is the best policy: "Get used to it," was the basic message from the Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

The third grey corner is occupied by some anxious and angry airline bosses. Their agenda is to stay in business. They know that the odd losses of £5m or so, as yesterday cost, are nothing compared with the longer-term financial damage. They are already losing all the valuable last-minute, high-fare sales to business travellers.

Worse still, the industry still has heaps of capacity to sell for summer to people who have not yet chosen a holiday. The airlines had hoped that the commitment-phobics would be making their travel decisions now, but instead see potential customers opting for ferries, trains or the back garden.

Naturally, airline executives want to keep disruption to a minimum. Not only must they pay out to keep holidaymakers by the pool in the Canaries or Crete until they can be brought home – they know that every wrecked holiday represents a family that won't be booking again in a hurry. Neither will the anxious fliers who see an industry in disarray, with Michael O'Leary, the boss of Europe's biggest airline, engaged in a media dogfight with authorities in the world centre of aviation, London.

You can tell the fourth grey corner – it's the one with all the passengers uncomfortably packed in. Our agenda is uncomplicated: to take delivery of the product that we ordered and paid for weeks or months ahead of time, in the form of safe and timely transportation. A simple wish, but one that is in danger of being trampled in the complex choreography of regulators, politicians and airlines.

British travellers are reasonable: we accepted ash crisis V.1 and came back for more. But the almighty muddle of V.2 makes us fearful of our future travel plans. Much of the value of any holiday is the anticipation. When that is replaced by apprehension, our aspirations dwindle.

I hope I am wrong – but I fear that this unhappy episode may dampen our dreams and demand for future travel. If that happens, the aviation industry will shrink and fares will rise – and our wishlists will be smothered beneath a grey blanket.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions