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Was Flight Ban Over Ash an Overreaction? 673

Posted by timothy
from the in-his-unbiased-opinion-of-course dept.
HaymarketRiot writes "Richard Branson has claimed that the flight ban, due to the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, was an overreaction on the part of the authorities. Britain's government has even called for the airlines to be compensated. This does look like a perfect excuse for already greedy airlines to try and get more money ... any experts care to comment on the effect of volcanic ash on planes?"
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Was Flight Ban Over Ash an Overreaction?

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  • by seebs (15766) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:28PM (#31971238) Homepage

    Basically, the jet's internals are hot enough to melt rock back into glass... So after a couple of passes through ash clouds, you have a thin layer of glass covering all the internal turbine blades. Which completely destroys the engine, and is extremely hard to repair without completely replacing the blades.

    So, basically, what I've been told is that, yes, flying a jet through a volcanic ash cloud is a good recipe for completely destroying the engines, such that they need to be rebuilt, within two or three passes through the ash. It sounds plausible, and I've not yet heard anyone who actually does aircraft maintenance or anything like that suggest that it's harmless.

  • by Dan East (318230) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:31PM (#31971256) Homepage Journal

    The summary is wrong. It is the founder of Virgin Atlantic that wants compensation, not the government. Has anyone ever heard of a government wanting to dish out compensation?

  • by Moofie (22272) <leeNO@SPAMringofsaturn.com> on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:34PM (#31971272) Homepage

    Don't know if you put any stock in what an aircraft manufacturer might say on the subject, but...

    http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/aero_09/volcanic_story.html [boeing.com]

    Summary: If you find yourself flying into an ash cloud, turn around immediately.

    So, yeah, maybe Branson wants a check, but flying into ash clouds is a very bad idea. And they don't show up on weather radar.

  • by Tony (765) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:38PM (#31971286) Journal

    I dunno. KLM Flight 867 [wikipedia.org] lost all four engines after flying into Mt. Redoubt's ash plume, back in 1989. I was in Fairbanks at the time, and many people I know where stranded, trying to get home for Christmas vacation.

    Ash is not good for jet engines. Period.

  • by rlp (11898) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:42PM (#31971298)

    "Flawed computer models may have exaggerated the effects of an Icelandic volcano eruption that has grounded tens of thousands of flights, stranded hundreds of thousands of passengers and cost businesses hundreds of millions of euros.

    The computer models that guided decisions to impose a no-fly zone across most of Europe in recent days are based on incomplete science and limited data, according to European officials. As a result, they may have over-stated the risks to the public, needlessly grounding flights and damaging businesses."

    From the Financial Times (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0821cc00-4bb5-11df-9db6-00144feab49a.html?ftcamp=rss)

  • by BagOBones (574735) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:43PM (#31971314)

    Exactly, I am not sure why past tragedies have not been mentioned by ANY of the officials or NEWS networks..

    I remember seeing something about this on Discovery or History channel years ago and a quick search pointed me to British Airways Flight 9 on Wikipedia, all four engines FAILED!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Airways_Flight_9 [wikipedia.org]

  • As a pilot... (Score:5, Informative)

    by WarJolt (990309) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:45PM (#31971326)

    I know almost all regulations are written in blood. If the wind decides to shift and a plane goes down that's unacceptable.

  • by bombastinator (812664) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:47PM (#31971334)
    There's a british kid's show called "bang goes the theory" (it's awesome)that had a great little demo of what happens. Basically the ash turns to glass on the hot jet engine turbine blades. It might not be nearly as bad for piston engine planes assuming they have air filters, which is not always the case.

    there's a blackhat video here (all I could find) it's the whole show. Luckily the demo is at the beginning. If someone could cut out the pertinant clip it would be cool

    http://www.megavideo.com/?d=0XOVBR18
  • No (Score:3, Informative)

    by igotmybfg (525391) <`ten.nospmohtleinad' `ta' `todhsals'> on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:54PM (#31971360) Homepage
    Aviation safety is not repeat NOT something to play around with. Better for an airline to lose a few million pounds and passengers to be stranded somewhere than for a plane to lose engine power in the middle of the Atlantic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ash_cloud#Aviation [wikipedia.org]
  • by 0123456 (636235) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:07AM (#31971404)

    I remember seeing something about this on Discovery or History channel years ago and a quick search pointed me to British Airways Flight 9 on Wikipedia, all four engines FAILED!

    BA Flight 9 flew through a concentrated ash cloud, and no-one is saying that aircraft should do so. But there's a level between that concentration and zero where the ash causes no significant impact on the engines, at which point it's safe to fly; more than that, there are higher levels where the engines will require increased maintenance but the airlines may be willing to pay that cost in order to keep the planes flying.

    The idea that a tiny level of ash will cause an airliner to fall out of the sky is just silly, and while I'd agree that closing down European airspace for a brief period was justified, keeping it closed for days was certainly an overreaction by burrowcrats who were too scared to take the risk of letting planes fly.

  • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:14AM (#31971450) Homepage Journal

    Better losing billions with no flights and than one crashing flight. How much is a life worth? That can't be expressed in €.

  • by russ1337 (938915) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:22AM (#31971494)
    Agree, and the argument is more fundamental than that.

    Federal Aviation Regulation 25.1309 relates to airworthiness standards for aircraft, and the fundamental aspect of this regulation is system safety. Excerpt below, with emphasis:

    (a)The equipment, systems, and installations whose functioning is required by this subchapter, must be designed to ensure that they perform their intended functions under any foreseeable operating condition.
    (b) The airplane systems and associated components, considered separately and in relation to other systems, must be designed so that--
    (1) The occurrence of any failure condition which would prevent the continued safe flight and landing of the airplane is extremely improbable, and
    [(2) The occurrence of any other failure condition which would reduce the capability of the airplane or the ability of the crew to cope with adverse operating conditions is improbable.

    Firstly, Aircraft are not designed to fly through clouds of corrosive silica ash.

    Secondly, 'Extremely improbable' is defined in the Advisory Circular (AC 25.1309) to that regulation, which requires chance of catastrophic loss to be less than "extremely improbable" or "1x10^-9" chance of total loss. Techniques such as Fault Tree Analysis are used to allocate reliability of systems to sub-systems, so the entire aircraft can be built from components with realistic reliabilities. However, the volcanic ash offers a 'common mode' failure across all engines including gas turbine Auxiliary Power Units.

    The regulators have an obligation to ensure the chance of total loss of an aircraft due to flying through an ash cloud remains 'extremely improbable', i.e 1x10^-9.

    Also, if the airlines lost an aircraft because they were allowed to go flying, and were being sued by the families of the victims, they'd be screaming blue murder at the regulators saying they didn't do enough to protect the airlines.

  • by russ1337 (938915) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:31AM (#31971534)
    He is also going to be screwed by his engine repair facilities. Most airlines operate a 'power by the hour' arrangement for their engines with an Engine Overhaul facility (Maintenance Repair Organization (MRO) where they pay a fixed amount per flying hour. This comes with many conditions including "thou shalt not fly through volcanic ash".

    Come time to send the engine in for overhaul (after about operating 30,000hrs) if there is sufficient evidence of turbine erosion that can be attributed to volcanic ash then the airline will be stuck with the US$7M per engine invoice. My college (who deals with engine health monitoring and MRO's) reckons a medium sized airlines may be in the hole for US$2B should they're engines be exposed to ash.

    Branson is being a doosh on this one, and should thank his lucky stars the regulators kept him out of the sky.
  • by Opyros (1153335) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:37AM (#31971566) Journal
    Erik Klemetti's Eruptions blog has a recent post called Eyjafjallajökull flight cancellations: How the right decision is being made to look wrong [scienceblogs.com] defending the decision to cancel, with much discussion in the comments section. (IMO, that blog's recent series of posts on the Iceland situation has been the best place to read about the eruption.)
  • Re:What? (Score:3, Informative)

    by whoever57 (658626) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:43AM (#31971592) Journal

    Good idea! They should require that the CEOs are on board the test flights.

    The CEO of British Airways was on board was on board their test flight. [yahoo.com]

  • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:43AM (#31971598) Journal
    Hey moderators--look a little more closely and you'll notice that the so-called flamer and the person he flamed were the same people!
  • by quacking duck (607555) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:47AM (#31971614)

    Though not an international news channel like CNN or BBC, Canada's CTV news network not only mentioned BA 9 the day the flight ban started, but showed the dramatic clips from the Discovery Channel's Mayday episode about it.

    Of course, it helped that Discovery Canada is owned by CTV, and Mayday is a Canadian production.

    What's going on now is the second-guessing of experts and efforts, being played up by the media to the clueless public, just like we saw with the Y2K bug.

  • by causality (777677) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:55AM (#31971642)

    While I know next to nothing about planes or volcanoes, I do know that volcanoes erupt along the pacific rim all the time, without the airspace of an entire continent having to be closed for a week. Apparently the authorities in the US just issue an advisory, and airlines just fly around the worst affected parts. Branson isn't the only airline director who went to the media saying that the flight ban went on far longer than was necessary, and that they fly through some levels of volcanic ash or desert dust every day.

    I think the "explosive" type of volcano that can hurl concentrations of ash into the air is just one specific type. I would guess that it's like Mt. St. Helens in that a magma flow encounters significant resistance, pressure behind it continues to build, and eventually the pressure reaches a point where the resistance is overcome suddenly and catestrophically, causing a huge explosion. By comparison, volcanoes like those in Hawaii tend to erupt frequently, and when they do, quantities of liquid lava well up from the ground and no sudden explosions or launches of ash take place.

    I am definitely not a volcanologist or a geologist. Having said that, it's possible that the kind of eruption that causes problems for airplanes is only one possible event of several or many possible events and may be a rarity.

  • Re:Just ask the BBC (Score:3, Informative)

    by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:10AM (#31971714) Homepage

    It's slightly worse than that, if the blades get covered in glass much at all, they need to be replaced. The problem is that the glass blocks up the cooling channels and they can overheat. Once they've overheated they will tend to creep and fail later.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:11AM (#31971720)

    That's a really telling translation. It appears as if the Google translator is trying to decipher the sentence in a way that assumes Finnish word suffixes are directly mapped to English prepositions. It saw the "sta" at the end of "perunajauhomaista" and assumed it means "from", and properly translated "perunajauho" as potato flour... Of course, the word is a form of "perunajauhomainen" which is an adjective that basically means "resembling potato flour" that was being used to describe the volcanic "ash dust".

  • by astar (203020) <max.stalnaker@gmail.com> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:32AM (#31971814) Homepage

    I live in oregon and maybe 20k years ago we had a volcano blow its top off, mt mazma. covered multiple states in multiple feet of ash. a bit of the eye witness accounts are still around. looks like to me, these things are often troublesome.

    I lived in seattle when mt st. helen went. I looked up and saw the plume and chose to immeadiate drive to the closed office and shut the computers down. This was winchester tech, sort of a big platter set, with external air blown in to keep the head up. The ceo wanted to burn me for an assumed failure to protect capital assets in my custody, but had to settle for being mean to my second.

    now seattle was never really bothered, but eastern washington got feet of ash drift in places. I hear from the manufacturer hardware techs that a lot of disks had to be completely rebuilt.

    so i would say some caution is justified, particularly with life critical tech.

    as far as bailouts, nobody owes these stockholders anything. usa tsa budget is already pretty much an airline pr boondoggle.

  • by xlsior (524145) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:33AM (#31971822) Homepage
    99 comments and no one has mentioned:
    d) Fly around it
    How wide is this ash cloud, anyway?

    Several thousand miles, covering most of North-Western Europe. The entire airspace of a long strip of countries was completely closed to all air travel. On top of that, the bulk of the cloud was between 20,000 and 36,000 feet up, which is also where a good chunk of your air travel happens.

    When a large number of your international transfer airports are right smack in the middle of a no-fly zone, then it doesn't really matter what direction you're coming from -- you still won't be able to go to your destination.
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:43AM (#31971848) Homepage

    Shutting down most of Europe's airspace was entirely the right decision. All it would take is one flight through an unexpected dust cloud to produce a near-disaster, if not a crash. That's happened at least five times in the past. Read Boeing's advisory on volcanic ash. [boeing.com]

    Read Branson's autobiography? Several times in his life, he's been involved in adventure vacations that left someone else dead. This is not someone you want making risk management decisions for others.

    The big problem now is that the airlines are botching the logistics of getting people back where they're supposed to be. [bbc.co.uk] There are people being told they can't get a flight until mid-May, because they booked a flight using frequent-flyer miles or via some discount deal that has a low priority. They can't get the airline on the phone, and they get hit with heavy roaming charges while on hold. This is really tough on people in transit running out of money.

  • by Cochonou (576531) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:44AM (#31971854) Homepage
    I don't know where you live. Where I live (in Europe incidentally), if I drive with worn out tires I get fined, and my car gets towed to the impound yard.
  • by leetrout (855221) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:46AM (#31971868) Journal
    I think it's worth specifying that the wind screen becoming opaque wasn't from ash sticking to it, but was from the ash sand-blasting it. It had the same effect on the landing lights and with this incident happening at night, added yet another level of difficulty to the situation.
  • by unix_geek_512 (810627) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:57AM (#31971910)

    This is a situation where this is definitely a major overreaction and at the same time volcanic ash is absolutely hazardous to aircraft.

    Volcanic ash can foul the turbine blades, cause the engines to overheat, melt and turn into glass making repairs highly impractical and can cause the engines to flame out repeatedly. It can also clog pitot tubes resulting in loss of the instruments, can damage the environmental control systems and when it comes into contact with the windshield can cause severe damage dangerously limiting visibility. The airframe can also suffer some damage, although in most past cases this was not severe and the airframes could be repaired and placed back into service.

    There have been several incidents where aircraft unknowingly flew into volcanic ash clouds and had all engines flame out, fortunately in those documented cases the aircraft were able to glide out of the ash cloud and eventually restart their engines and land safely, however the engines had to be replaced, which is very expensive.

    As long as you have enough altitude and can glide out of the ash plume and restart the engines there is a very high probability that it will be a survivable event.

    If you can avoid the cloud you're completely safe, the key problem is you don't know where the ash is until you fly into it, since it can't be detected on radar or other instruments currently available on passenger aircraft.

    Had a system to track volcanic ash been developed to make information available to the crews in the cockpit in real time this wouldn't be a problem.

    The other major problem is economics, most airlines prefer to use the established North Atlantic air routes to save money on fuel costs and reduce flying time, even though alternate routes may already exist, or could be established, that would go around the ash cloud.

    Finally there's a good deal of politics in all of this which doesn't really make a lot of sense from a practical standpoint.

  • by kindafun (935717) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @02:35AM (#31972044) Homepage
    I am an expert on this, I design cooled turbine blades for a turbine engine company. There are a number of problems the ash could cause including clogging up small holes used to film cool the turbine blades, and causing thermal barrier coating (if used) to come off. The result of either would be significantly reduced turbine blade life. And yes, it could be such a significant reduction as to quickly rupture the blades and shut down the engines. Planes dropping out of the air... bad idea.
  • Damage (Score:4, Informative)

    by arikol (728226) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @02:48AM (#31972078) Journal

    I would like to add that on the near accidents mentioned above the damage to the aircraft was also VERY extensive. The BA flight needed 4 new engines (around U$ 14 million EACH), new windows (more expensive than you would think), new pitot and static ports (and an overhaul of tubing and sensors) and a paintjob (big surface, costs quite a bit) as well as a thorough overhaul of pretty much everything.

    Even if no one dies it is still extremely expensive to fly accidentally into an ash cloud.

    I really don't think this was an overreaction. Safety must be paramount, and if only one or two aircraft had gone down due to ash that would have seriously impacted the publics faith in the airline industry and their view of safety. That would have been a lot more expensive in the long run, and the airline industry has spend decades building an image of themselves as super safety minded.

    And just for the record, I'm an ex-commercial pilot. From Iceland. I've flown smaller aircraft around volcanic eruptions and had great fun.

  • by Psychotria (953670) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @03:00AM (#31972108)

    I thought the travel blackout was a little too knee jerk. I don't know how high the ash got in the atmosphere, but I'm thinking that there would be a more or less safe zone either above or below the main concentration of ash. Then there is the bigger safe zone away from the main corridor the ash is traveling. They might have needed to make adjustments to flight plans, but I think that they could have had a much smaller no-fly zone. Of course I am not even an aerospace janitor, so what do I know?

    I am pretty glad you're not in a position where the life of a LOT of people depends on your decisions.

  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @03:02AM (#31972114) Homepage

    The difference here is that a volcano like the one on Hawaii does have frequent eruptions and the amount of water absorbed into the rock is low, but with volcanoes that seldom erupts and/or are located under glaciers you will get a lot of water involved which tends to create a fine dust cloud of the ash that spreads easily.

    The real culprit here is in fact water! When pressure drops you will get a chain reaction where water goes from liquid to gas form in a moment which results in several things; A quick cooling of the rock to solid state (transiting from liquid to gas costs energy), intense expansion of the mixed mass of lava/steam causing a powerful eruption and as the rock was rapidly cooled it will be brittle and easily cracked into very small particles that easily stays in the atmosphere for a long time.

    Now - this dust is essentially really fine sand particles, and when you fly through them they will sand blast the aircraft, but also they will melt in the jet engines possibly extinguishing the flame and cause deposits in the turbines. Under some conditions (depending on throttle of the engine, engine type and composition of the particles) they will not melt, but just sand blast the engines essentially acting as an engine cleaner - however since there are too many unknowns involved so you can't count on that.

    Anyway - engine damage to aircrafts is the major reason for the "No Fly" directive - an aircraft without engines will sooner or later make an unplanned landing and those are usually messy. Secondary issue is that the windshields of the aircrafts get sandblasted too so the pilots may have a hard time see what's in front of the aircraft. Missing the runway won't be good and make a mistake when taxing is embarrassing to say the least. Decreased view while in the air isn't that much of a problem as long as you have your instruments.

  • by bkpark (1253468) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @03:07AM (#31972130) Homepage

    I don't know about Branson, but some of the airline CEOs did go up on one of those successful test flights they sent up Sunday through, I think, Tuesday after eruption. It still took those regulators days after that too lift the senseless ban.

  • by knapper_tech (813569) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @03:40AM (#31972212)
    The cooling system used in gas turbines (jet engines) is very sophisticated and necessary to keep the superalloy blades from creeping too fast. The system consists of bypass air channeled through the blades and exhausted through tiny perforations, creating a layer of cooler air between the blade and the hot flow from the combustor. Furthermore there are two ceramic layers on the outside of the blade. One to prevent oxidation. One to slow heat transfer (insulate). As has been mentioned in other articles, the cooling pores could get clogged by the ash. I also suspect the coating might fail if impacted by ash. If the coating fails or otherwise reacts with the ash, then you can definitely have a problem.

    If the blades get just a few tens of degrees hotter, they will surely fail. There's not a lot of margin for error with jet engines. Through good design and manufacturing control, we've managed to make gas turbines extremely reliable, but ash is not a design condition at all. It's abrasive, might react with the coating, and might accumulate on the blades, changing both their mass and aerodynamics.
  • Re:As a pilot... (Score:3, Informative)

    by bkpark (1253468) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @03:53AM (#31972240) Homepage

    I know almost all regulations are written in blood.

    Not this one. Not a single fatality owing due to volcanic ashes. Yes, there have been a few flights disrupted and a couple flights where all engines shut down and plane maybe had to crash land, but there have been no blood (unless you count scratches that may have happened in crash-landing) for this regulation.

  • by Maxmin (921568) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @04:05AM (#31972268)

    That's an apple-oranges comparison. The video shows a GE-Honda HF120 turbine [wikipedia.org], a 2,000 lb two-stage, two-compressor turbofan designed for the light jet market. A very different design from...

    Commercial airline engines are rated from 14,000 (old-school Boeing 737) to over 100,000 (Boeing 777) pounds.

    Aside from that, the difference in scale of a fine volcanic ash particle compared with a grain of sand determines the melt rate. Volcanic ash passing through a turbine is essentially a fluid, one that melts at around 1000 C. Aggregate sand (in the video) melt between 1500-1700 C.

    Turbofan combustion chambers burn at between 1500-2000 C. Grains of sand are too thick to melt, given the airflow rate through an engine (250-1400 mph.)

  • Norway (Score:5, Informative)

    by andersh (229403) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @04:07AM (#31972276)

    That's the problem, I'm not from a major European country. I'm Norwegian. Norway took the correct measures to stave off any negative effects (according to the OECD). Jobs, banks and housing markets remained stable. We have 2.6% unemployment.

    While there might be more to the story than simply having regulated our banking industry we did very well during this recession. It doesn't hurt that we're the world's 3rd largest exporter of oil, or that we have no national debt, and put our oil revenue in a huge sovereign fund invested abroad. We base our welfare state on taxes, not on oil revenue.

    Part of the reason our banks were already regulated was the fact that during the 1980s Norway had its own bank crisis and housing market crash. The government had to take control of the collapsed banks and rebuild them. Since then our banks have been strictly regulated and the housing market stable.

    The UK was badly hit by the recession obviously, but Germany has been out of recession for a long time now. Germany is the major nation in Europe. I believe France technically came out of recession too. Spain, Portugal and Greece are not large countries. I doubt you can find a European country that experienced the recession on the scale of the US.

    I can provide a source too if you like: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2009217763_norway14.html [nwsource.com]

  • by Goffee71 (628501) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @04:30AM (#31972354) Homepage
    The engine makers set the limit at 0, many years ago. The airlines were asked if they wanted a review of that in 2008. They ignored that offer, so it is the airlines fault, pure and simple. Any other argument is just posturing.
  • by Xugumad (39311) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @04:59AM (#31972458)

    > Dutch airline KLM said it flew a Boeing 737-800 up to the usual maximum altitude of 13km (8 miles) on Saturday and Germany's Lufthansa said it flew 10 planes to Frankfurt from Munich at altitudes of up to 8km.

    > KLM chief executive Peter Hartman, who was on board the plane, said there was "nothing unusual" about the flight.

    - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8627720.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    I believe many of the other test flights had management staff as passengers, too. Can't find any details either way about Virgin, though....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 25, 2010 @05:03AM (#31972478)

    In general, when one tries to describe something unfamiliar, it's a good technique to compare it to something similar that is more likely to be familiar to the reader/listener. Personally, this is the first time in my life that I've ever heard the phrase "potato flour". Is it similar to ordinary (wheat) flour in its consistency?

    It's markedly different from wheat flour. If Wikipedia is to be trusted, 'potato starch' is a more accurate translation, even if it is called 'jauho' (flour) in Finnish.

    It's stickier than real flour, meaning it forms clumps spontaneously. If heated, it will form a gel, meaning it is used not only in cooking, but for household uses and in industry - it's added to some paper as a binding agent apparently.

    Apart from use in the kitchen, it's also a household lubricant - when added in minute amounts to a surface, it will decrease friction. It's used on table hockey games to great effect. :)

  • greedy airlines ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by EpsCylonB (307640) <{eps} {at} {epscylonb.com}> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @05:17AM (#31972526) Homepage

    I am not sure that calling the airlines greedy is really fair, the airline industry has been having a very tough time in various different ways since 9/11.

    BA in particular have had lots of problems with strikes leading to a negative effect on their already poor finances.

    Now I am not saying that they should be compensated, or that it was right for the airlines to want to fly when the conditions could have been dangerous, but "greedy airlines" is probably a little too simplistic.

  • by Wheely (2500) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @05:19AM (#31972534)

    Lufthansa did not send up ten flights. There was one German flight that flew a flight that increased in altitude by 1000 feet every ten minutes or so up to 40000 feet. At the time the cloud was estimated to be about 15000 up in the air. The CEO was on the flight and no instruments were on board to say what concentration of ash they were flying through. For all anyone knows they weren't flying through any.

    You may be confusing the number of Lufthansa flights with the 50 that were given special permission to fly through German airspace the day before the whole of Europe lifted the ban.

    You may be right that the law should be changed or you might be wrong. However, I would suggest that you needs facts before you change the law and there weren't any. Given the fact that nobody knew but models suggested you'd have planes falling out of the sky over Europe, I think the right thing was done.

  • by Wheely (2500) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @05:29AM (#31972562)

    They didn't take passengers up with them but they did say "hey we didn't die on our flight" in order to get public opinion to pressure the authorities into opening the airspace. The fact that the useful data obtained from their flight was as close to zero as makes no difference (and they knew it) was an irrelevance for them.

    You saw no volcanic ash because it was microscopic and several thousand feet in the air. The British scientific plane that went up, loaded with specialised instruments that could actually detect volcanic substances in the air and could test densities landed with the pilot saying they had a couple of scary moments. They could smell the sulphur and they wouldn't fly a jet liner up there.

    The cloud covered the whole of Europe from Scandinavia down to Northern Italy. There were no corridors that anybody could detect. They may have been there but if you cant find them, you cant fly along them.

    I am sorry you got stuck and I probably would have felt more like you in your situation but fortunately these kinds of decisions are not taken by people in desperate situations.

  • by dunkelfalke (91624) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @06:07AM (#31972682)

    Dude, maybe you should just stop thinking, because thinking doesn't work very well for you. I mean, 10-20 percent? You are basically saying that you don't have any hard data and just pulling some number out of your arse, then adding that the figure might be twice as high.
    Well, I've got news for you. In 2008 the unemployment rate in France was at 7.9%. Now the unemployment rate in France is 9.7%, which is exactly the same rate as in the USA.
    Judging from your other postings here you are just a selfish prick who has missed his flight and had to stay in Frankfurt/Main. Dude, as someone who lives in Frankfurt, I can only say that I am very glad that you finally went back from whence you came. It is people like you who give Americans a bad name.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @06:31AM (#31972766) Journal
    Given that a Eurostar from Frankfurt to London costs about fifty Euros and, including boarding times, takes less time than a flight, I don't really think he can blame the airlines if he was stuck in Frankfurt for a week.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 25, 2010 @06:56AM (#31972848)

    20-25 years ago Qantas flew a 747 through an volcanic ash cloud somewhere in Indonesia and all 4 engines stopped. They dove and managed to
    get the engines restarted but they dropped a long way. I wouldn't want to have been on that flight.

  • The ferry and train services out of Europe were slammed from the minute the closure was announced. They just weren't set up to handle the sudden demand. The Eurostar has been booked solid ever since, and it still booked to capacity with the backlog of passengers.

    It's a great plan to take the Eurostar back - so great that everyone else had the same idea. There's a reason the British Royal Navy has been acting as a ferry service from European ports back to the UK - supply is far short of demand at the moment.

  • Let's see... (Score:4, Informative)

    by k.a.f. (168896) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @07:06AM (#31972886)
    • We do know that ash particles in high concentration can case jet engines to fail very quickly.
    • However, we do not know where the threshold for criticality is, because we have next to no experience with such incidents, and the manufacturers don't know either.
    • We also do not know very well how high the concentration is at any given point, because radar is useless for measuring it, and satellites are next to useless.

    So that's an easy one: no, it wasn't.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 25, 2010 @07:25AM (#31972946)

    Also: the chemistry of volcanic ash is problematic in the case of Iceland because of the presence of significant amounts of fluorine [norvol.hi.is]. This makes it more chemically reactive than quartz sand grains, especially when heated.

  • Umm, a couple of faults with your plan.
    (I was in Frankfurt as well)

    Eurostar doesn't run from Frankfurt. Try Brussels or Paris. It takes longer, it takes 3 hours just to get to Brussels (And getting the ICE to Brussels to get the Eurostar to London is faster than going through Paris). ICE / TGV / Eurostar run at about 250 km/h so there is no way that they can get there in an hour and a half.

    Eurostar was 320 because it's short notice, you can get it for 50, but at an inconvenient time with 6 weeks notice. The ICE to Brussels was 160 (I think). All told I ended up paying about 550 - 600 to get to Dublin and it took me 24 hours. Getting tickets to get into France wasn't a problem, getting Eurostar tickets was difficult, I got the last ticket for my train on Monday. Most people were waiting 3+ days to get a seat on the Eurostar. By the time that they had dealt with a lot of back log the planes were in the sky again.

    Really, it was a stupid remark and it proves you weren't there / haven't been travelling in that area. Especially if you haven't been travelling there, it can be quite daunting trying to figure out how / when and where.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:14AM (#31973508)

    Actually it isn't just water that causes the type of eruption. It is mainly the viscosity of the magma. Hawaii-like volcanos have a low viscosity basalt magma and as such will not build up much pressure when squeezing that magma through a narrow tube. Eruptions like Mt St Helens are by contrast a very high viscosity magma. The pressure builds much more when you try to squeeze it through a narrow tube. And whenever you have pressure it will always take the path of least resistance, in this case, blowing the entire mountain into 10^20 pieces.

    Think about two drink containers each with a straw in em. One juice, the other soft serve ice cream. Squeeze both as hard as you can. The juice will likely squirt out the straw while the ice cream will likely pop the plastic top off. Viscosity matters most!

  • by sjames (1099) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:37AM (#31974852) Homepage

    Sand is formed through an erosion process, then spends years being polished against other sand grains. So the grains are somewhat rounded. Volcanic ash is the same substances minus any polishing.

  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:21PM (#31975270)

    Perhaps you could link to some evidence for this? Richard Branson is a businessman and adventurer who has partnered with some excellent engineers including Burt Rutan, who does design and build spaceships. I didn't find any evidence that he's an engineer himself, nor a pilot, although it seems fairly likely he has a private pilot's license. That's a far cry from being an experienced airline pilot with the lives of a few hundred passengers directly in your hands. Wikipedia says Branson was a fairly poor student who suffered from dyslexia and got ahead by connecting with people, not by being technically educated.

    Branson is a businessman. He seems to be one of the better ones, but he is probably not qualified to assess the danger to an aircraft himself, and he certainly has a strong conflict of interest in this case. Not to mention he's piping up after the fact - it's easy to criticize someone else's decisions after the danger is past.

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