Is Europe facing another Volcanic flight cancellation debacle?

Well, well – don’t they say what goes around comes around? After last year’s disastrous effect on European air travels caused by the ash cloud from the erupting Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, many voices were heard on how to better deal with such an event the next time it occurs. Last year the resulting airspace closures cost economies world-wide billions of dollars, no wonder everyone is eager to handle the problem better this time.

The “chance” to prove this has now come: On Sunday evening at 19:25 UTC the eruption of another Icelandic volcano, the Grímsvötn volcano began. Apparently the eruption scale has been much larger than that of the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. Reuters promptly asked a spokesman for Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority yesterday if the ash cloud would cause some disruption to flights this time and they said: “That’s the way it’s looking certainly at the moment.”

This morning, UK time, the BBC headlines already read “hundreds facing volcanic ash cloud flight cancellations”. Flights to and from Scotland seem to be those that are currently affected primarily as BA, KLM, Aer Lingus and Easyjet are among the airlines that have chosen to suspend services in and out of Scotland for the coming hours. Ryanair has objected to an order from Irish officials to ground its morning flights to and from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen on safety grounds.

Acoording to the same BBC article, this year, in the UK, the decision on whether to fly or not in ash cloud conditions is down to individual airlines, although they have to apply to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for final approval. The transport secretary said the UK was “better” prepared than it had been in 2010. Philip Hammond told BBC Two’s Newsnight there were now “much more robust systems” in place to “minimise the disruptive effect” and there was now a better understanding of the risk from ash clouds.

Two things are for sure: first everyone’s eyes are on the MET office’s forecasts and ash cloud models and second, airline managers must feel the pressure balancing safety concerns with economic decisions. For those who have to travel around Northern Europe, make sure you check your flight status early or possibly make alternative arrangements.

[Photo from Flickr – Some rights reserved by NASA Goddard Photo and Video]