Sounds like anthropogenic global warming, doesn’t it? The danger exists, but it is being senselessly exaggerated.
What if behind the decision to stop flights on a continental scale were the failure of a whole way of thinking public policy in Europe, with an asinine fixation on using computer models?
What if the aftermath of weeks of anthropogenic fear about millions dying of swine flu or maybe not, and the aftermath of weeks of anthropogenic fear about volcanic cloud making airplanes drop from the sky like flies or maybe not…what if people finally opened their eyes about the extreme limitations of computer modeling?
Who knows. Meanwhile, let me state clearly that I am fully aware of the potential risks for an airplane flying in the wrong conditions and at the wrong time through a cloud of volcanic origin. But there are enough indications to doubt the necessity of a reaction even remotely like the irrational panic that is causing the closure of European air spaces.
For example, the famous BA9 flight that almost crashed in 1982, was not the only flight to pass through that area. Wikipedia reports that the airspace around the Galunggung volcano was temporarily closed after the accident, reopened days later and permanently shut only after a similar incident to a Singapore Airlines flight around 19 days later, on July 13, 1982.
Indeed, there are indications that the first “encounter” with the ashes from Galunggung had occurred on April 5. That is, in three months and with little precaution taken, only twice the conditions were bad enough for flights to experience severe problems. And even if we consider the famous eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, despite the resulting cloud being able to travel 8,000 kilometers to the East Coast of Africa, the total tally was of 20 “damaged” planes, none of them as badly as BA9.
Think about it…billions and billions of flight hours since the Wright brothers, thousands and thousands of flight accidents of all sort and a grand total of 22 issues with volcanic ash, none of it deadly.
Sounds like anthropogenic global warming, doesn’t it? The danger exists, but it is being senselessly exaggerated. Even a recent NASA study, stating that virtually invisible and imperceptible volcanic clouds can still cause serious damage to an aircraft, can’t dispel the doubts since, were that to be true, the effect of ash would have been long noticed in the maintenance of thousands of airplanes.
Anyway…where reason fails, money can still rule the day, hence the airlines’ discontent about the decision to keep everybody grounded. Lufthansa and Air Berlin protested first to the newspapers, and even Niki Lauda moved swiftly from caution to crying foul after finding out that the cloud of Eyjafjallajökull is not everywhere and anywhere in Europe.
Besides, once the Met Office has been found out as the main reason for the air space closure, and one of its computer models, memories of recent colossal gaffes and prediction errors just make it humanly impossible to avoid a good deal of skepticism…
There is also a clear problem with procedures. What has happened in 2010 that is so fundamentalle different from 2004 for example, when the Icelandic volcano Grímsvötn caused disruption of flights but in a limited area, and only resulted in precaution about flying some parts of the North Sea?
On Sunday, trade associations of European airports and airlines have issued a statement asking why a definitely not uncommon event (Iceland is full of volcanoes and eruptions follow one another) provoked different reactions in Europe than anywhere else in the world.
How difficult could it be to close part of the Icelandic and Atlantic airspace, fly some planes and launch some balloons to measure the situation, double-check aircrafts after they land in surrounding areas? And in fact that is what is probably going to happen anyway, and measurements have already started in earnest on Monday 19 (details in German: here, here and here).
Meanwhile, reknown experts are starting to speak up against the madness. Here’s an interview (in Italian) with Prof Guido Visconti of the University of L’Aquila, Italy. Prof Visconti teaches Atmospheric Physics, is Director of the local Extreme Phenomena Center, and has worked in the past with NASA and Harvard University. His opinion? “Much precaution about nothing…we have started taking measurements today in Italy and what we see is small and unimportant“.
Concluding with a note of regret, one has to report (but not necessarily link) various sites who take actual pleasure in what has happened, because for a few days you there is a little less emissions of CO2, and also humanity gets to suffer instead of being happy and flying. Too bad for the people of Kenya, right?