Simon Calder: High drama is a battle of competing interests

Share
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

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

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Shanghai  

Is Russia and China’s ‘Nato of the East’ more than a Potemkin alliance?

Nigel Morris
A petition calling for Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, to be included has been signed by nearly 200,000 people  

Let me list the reasons that the Green Party should definitely not be allowed into the TV election debates...

Mark Steel
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager