don’t want to make an ash of myself…

One of my responsibilities at work is to make sure that our employees are safe while traveling.  Until today, this week’s Icelandic volcanic eruption was a no brainer… flights in the affected area were cancelled for safety reasons.  Now, the airlines and the EU have been performing test flights to see if it is possible to restart flights in Northern Europe in spite of the continuing eruption.  KLM flew a plane (with no passengers on board) from Duesseldorf to Amsterdam on Saturday without incident, although at lower altitude than normal.  Similar flights by BA, LH and AF also landed without incident.  Given the magnitude of the economic losses and travel chaos being caused by the cessation of air traffic, I can understand why folks are anxious to get planes back into the air.  However, not everyone is a fan of this plan… the Finnish airforce ran their own tests using F-18 fighters and concluded that even short term exposure to the ash cloud caused damage to the planes’ engines.  And tests run by NASA showed that even very thin clouds of ash could significantly damage jet engines.

So… what if the EU decides to reopen Northern Europe’s airspace?  What travel advice do I provide to my colleagues?  Should people currently stuck waiting for flights to or from the region take one of the first flights?  Personally, I would not be ready to get on a flight to LHR today if the air space were to reopen whilst Eyjafjallajökull is still being uppity.  And I would be hesitant to get on a plane which had flown through the ash for some time after the eruption ceases, since damage to engines may manifest itself over time.  For now, the airways are still closed, so this is a hypothetical question.  But if the EU and airlines decide that the risks are acceptable, people are going to want to get home or make trips for business.  Coming up with a travel policy which balances risk with the need to conduct business is going to be a challenge – especially if this eruption continues for a long period of time or if it is a precursor to a much larger volcanic event.  Stay tuned…

don’t want to make an ash of myself…

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