Posted by John McHale
GENEVA, Switzerland, 25 May 2011. The latest volcanic eruption in Iceland by Grimsvotn, had many in the European community concerned about hwo it would affect air travel. However, officials at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) say they are encouraged that European leaders are coordinating to manage the airspace, but at the same time say that there needs to be a formal agreement among political leaders so passengers and shippers will not be affected by poor or slow decisions.
"Safety is always our top priority and without any compromise. Work over the last year has put in place a European crisis coordination structure that is facilitating a much more effective management of this ash crisis at a working level," says Giovanni Bisignani, IATA's director general and chief executive officer. "But Grimsvotn is also a dramatic reminder of the disappointing lack of progress at the political level on the Single European Sky. The potential for a patchwork of inconsistent state decisions on airspace management still exists because there is a major disconnect between the improved process and state decisions on airspace availability."
Last year's Icelandic volcano eruption caused much havoc in the European airspace with multiple closures an scattered decision making among European political leaders based on theoretical data, IATA officials say.
Since then, European Commission officials, working with European agencies, including Eurocontrol and airlines, developed a new approach which recommends that: states should not implement blanket closures of airspace; and that regulators should accept the capability of airlines to conduct their own safety risk assessments prior to flight in any ash affected area.
Airline safety risk assessments augment the modeling of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center with empirical data and are supported by airline safety management systems. The UK, Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Norway are among the states that accept airline safety risk assessment procedures. IATA is working closely with the European Aviation Safety Agency to bring the remaining European states on board with this process.
"Airlines and their customers need certainty. The process is working much more effectively and we have avoided the blanket airspace closures that brought much of the world to a standstill last year," Bisignani says. "But there is still no formal obligation for a unified and coordinated response. European Transport Ministers should formally agree their determination to avoid a repeat of the 2010 chaos by embracing a common process based on airline safety risk assessments for determining whether and when it is safe to fly. And Europe must urgently follow-up on its promise from last year to accelerate the Single European Sky and ensure that safe airspace remains open for business."
Bisignani had criticism for England over its test aircraft not being available. In a letter to Philip Hammond, England's secretary of state for transport, Bisignani stated, "I am very concerned to learn that the CAA aircraft is unavailable. It is astonishing and unacceptable that Her Majesty's government cashes GBP 3.5 billon each year in Air Passenger Duty but is incapable of using a small portion of that revenue to purchase another Cessna to use as a back-up aircraft. I ask please that you ensure that all possible efforts are made to get the existing aircraft operational in the shortest possible time."
It is estimated that the mismanagement of 2010 volcanic ash crisis cost airlines $1.8 billion in lost revenues and cost the global economy as a whole $5 billion, IATA officials say.
Posted by John McHale