independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Steve Connor: Airspace closure due to ash cloud fears 'was right move'

AIR traffic controllers were right to close European airspace last year over worries about the ash plume from an erupting Icelandic volcano, a study has found.

Despite protestations from airline bosses in April of last year that it would have been safe to continue flying, samples of ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano taken at the time of its eruption have led scientists to conclude that serious structural damage to aircraft could have occurred if passenger planes had continued to fly.

Tests on the ash revealed it contained particles of glass so sharp they could have damaged exposed surfaces of any aircraft, including the engines and cockpit windows.

The volcanic eruption last April caused havoc for up to 10 million passengers.

'Unnecessary'

Some airlines criticised civil aviation authorities for the shutdown. Ryanair's Michael O'Leary said at the time that "there was no ash cloud. It was mythical. It's become evident the airspace closure was completely unnecessary".

Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, described the closure as a "gross over-reaction to a very minor risk", and Virgin boss Richard Branson described the final set of closures as "beyond a joke". It is estimated the airlines lost about €2.25bn.

The study by Sigurdur Gislason and colleagues at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik was based on an investigation of ash samples sent to a laboratory in Denmark for detailed microscopic analysis.

The scientists found that even after the particles had been mixed continually in water for two weeks, they retained their ability to be dangerous to exposed aircraft surfaces.

"The particles of explosive ash that reached Europe in the jet stream were especially sharp and abrasive over their entire size range," the scientists said in their study published in the journal ' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'.

"The very sharp, hard particles put aircraft at risk from abrasion on windows and body and from melting in jet engines," the scientists said.

"Concerns for air transport were well grounded." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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