Icelandic Volcano - Are the Authorities Being Overcautious Regarding Air Travel?
photo : Virtualtourist.com
Over the last couple of days, I've heard from many friends and colleagues stuck in various desitnations, either on business or vacation.
We've all read about the issues for travellers and for the airlines. There are also a great many other businesses, mine included, which are totally dependent on overseas travel.
So clearly, the human and economic costs are very high. Against this backdrop, I keep asking myself two questions - Firstly, Are the authorities being too cautious in deciding to ground air traffic? Secondly, would I be willing to fly in European Airspace right now?
The Financial Times has a very interesting article, with some major questions regarding the validity of the computer models used in Europe and the comparisons between the European and US approach to aviation safety.
In the chemical industry, we tend to start with the precautionary principle but then use a combination of theory and data to give a quantified analysis of the risk. Risk can never be eliminated but we can make decisions on whether or not it is acceptable.
If the models are flawed, we need to systematically collect data, such as that generated from the various test flights over the last few days and any other data which we deem necessary. We should then use this to validate or challenge the models (whilst checking whether the jet engines have suffered any damage).
What we can't afford to do is sit around, rely solely on the existing models and hope the problem will go away, particularly when there are other potentially active volcanoes in the same area.
As for whether I would be willing to fly - well I wouldn't want to fly around the volcano but would be willing to accept the assurances given to me by the airline companies and fly if they believe that it is safe to do so.