Ashes are burning

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It’s that time of year again. I’m not talking about the hay fever season, but the volcano season.

This time last year, airlines were reeling from the impact of an Icelandic volcano which grounded flights, and consequently air cargo, all across Europe.

Now another Icelandic volcano, Grimsvotn, has started erupting. As I write, it is only affecting air traffic in the immediate area, but the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre is predicting that by the end of the week its ash cloud will have spread to cover a significant chunk of North West Europe.

Last year’s eruption highlighted just how tightly supply chains are integrated all around the world. The question is, have we learnt anything from it?

Shockingly, in 2010, the eruption Eyjafjallajökull volcano resulted in a total shutdown of air traffic over much of Europe  amid dire warnings that the slightest trace of ash would clog up the turbines and stop the engines.

What became very clear is that no-one really knew what the effect would be and a lot of the disruption proved to be unnecessary. But it’s easy to say that with hindsight – what we need is the aviation authorities to show more foresight this time.

Everyone from the aviation authorities to the airlines themselves say they are better prepared. Airlines can now fly thought ash clouds if they have demonstrated a safety case for doing so.

And the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell has been activated “to coordinate a response that can mitigate any potential impact while maintaining established safety levels”.

Let’s hope so. To get caught out once might be regarded as a misfortune. To get caught out a second time would look like incompetence.

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