Flying today?

Several airlines report success in flying jets without passangers through areas said to present a danger to planes. Clearly there are pilots and airline managements who think the total ban on flying goes too far. We hear the Met Office has been flying around the UK looking at ash. I can hear some light aircraft in the skies and I was told the Scilly Islands passenger air service is still in the air, flying at relatively low levels. The issue at stake is our old friend “the science” – exactly what concentration or level of ash in the sky represents a hazard to engines? Is there any truth in the alternative explanation that those planes which have in the past encountered difficulties near to a volcano have had engines fail owing to a shortage of oxygen in the local atmosphere, with the engines re starting as soon as they are out of the immediate vicinity and the high concentrations of other gases?

The authorities should consider relaxing the total ban on flights from UK airports to permit airlines to send up freight transport only planes where the pilots are volunteers who judge the conditions to be acceptable. If pilots want to do this and if this works without incident more thought could be given to the total ban. If any plane encounters ash sufficient to stop an engine the complete ban should be reimposed.

Meanwhile the idea of allowing many more flights from the rest of the world to Spain to get people home, with more surface transport of all kinds being laid on to get people back from Spain, is a good one. Let us hope this is adopted soon, so families can be reunited, students can get back to their studies and employees back to their jobs.

Promoted by Christine Hill on behalf of John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU

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43 Comments

  1. Mick Anderson
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Once there are aircraft in the sky, the pilots will be able to report the state of the dust cloud.

    On the basis that the average pilot wants to live long enough to land his steed safely, I'd go with their experience and observational skills.

    There is no such thing as zero risk, but I doubt that the aviation risk around southern England (and the majority of mainland Europe) has increased significantly.

    • simon
      Posted April 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      One of the posters on JR's other thread said that a test pilot came back with engine damage but thought he had been flying through clean air .

      The equipment needed to capture particles cannot be that exotic and it should be straight forward to analyse their composition in a laboratory .

    • Posted April 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      The problem is not the dust cloud but the Carbon Dioxide plume which probably covers a greater area than the dust. It is this which would cause the engines to "flame out", due to lack of oxygen, in the first instance, although the ash would cause severe abrasion damage (like sand-blasting).
      The CO2 aspect continues to be ignored, presumably for PC reasons and comments it would cause about man-made climate change.

      • Mick Anderson
        Posted April 20, 2010 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        Yes, if you are directly over the volcano there is a big problem with carbon dioxide. There is so much that there is not enough oxygen to allow the aero engines to run.

        However, once you are away from the immediate source of the problem, the concentration of CO2 is diluted very rapidly.

        It's why the test flights by BA and others didn't end in a nasty hole in the ground. They've inspected the engines and found that there was no wear that could be attributed to ash in the atmosphere, and they would have noticed during the flight if the engines were losing power due to lack of oxygen.

  2. Tony E
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I hope this 'crisis' is not being exacerbated so that the government can have its moment looking like it can get things done. Like a patriotic Dunkirk style RN rescue from the shores of France maybe?

  3. Chris Woolley
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    JR, what you don't point out is that "the science" we are relying on is coming from the met office, whose track record shows they could not tell if it was day or night by looking out of the window.
    In decision making terms, the downside of letting planes up again is so huge that no-one will take it when they can opt for a 'no'. We need to re-frame the question to get a different answer.

  4. alan jutson
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Friend of ours with other BA passengers was coached back overland from Saltzburg, trip was organised by BA.

    According to press reports BA chief exec took part in a flight on a 747 yesterday over the atlantic and back.

    Aircraft now in the BA engineering works for inspection, to see if any damage has been caused to aircraft.

  5. no one
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    flying small show stunts proves nothing

    you need to take the engines to bits to examine for damage

    repeated prolonged flights through this stuff is bound to knacker an engine

    do you really want to be on the flight when the engine finally gives up the ghost?

    very noticable that the so called test flights have all been in 4 engine planes too and nobody has been brave enough to go up in a 2 engine plane – the odds are no good enough for even the strongest critics to risk their life to 2 engines at the moment

  6. Alan Wheatley
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    How do passengers and crew fare when there is a "shortage of oxygen"?

  7. Stuart Fairney
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I do wonder if there isn't an element of environmental gloating in all this ~ it's well known they (the greens) hate planes, so drag out the ban as long as possible and then come out with preposterous lines about living without planes blah blah….

  8. A G
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    There seems to be two problems. One is a private commercial problem for the economy due to the grounding of aviation, which nevertheless will have implications for the country as a whole if it continues for too long. This can probably be left to the engineers, airoplane manufacturers, scientists, pilots and airlines to sort out in due course.
    The other more important emergency for government is the problem of how to get back our compatriots who are stranded and marooned abroad. The response to this more pressing second issue reminds me of the old Dad's Army sketch where the german pilots have taken hostages in the church hall and official agency after official agency dare not rescue them because they need to defer to the others because of risk and safety (and sheer cowadice) issues. Eventually our 'hopeless' homeguard platoon realise that nothing will be done and they just have to take a risk and get on with doing their duty and saving their friends.
    The most encouraging thing I've heard is the rescue attempt by Dan Snow which seems to have been scuppered by the authorities. Can't we have one day of 'holiday' when the whole country volunteers to help with cars, boats, coaches or even horses to get our people back. My hospital doctor husband goes into work today to do two jobs covering for doctors stranded on an enforced extended holiday, and my kids are missing teachers at school. This is an emergency and gives us a chance to take the big society idea into our own hands and make a difference.

  9. Bob
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    It's not worth the risk of damaging the engines.
    The suspension has been in place for several days now and the world is still turning. Relax.

  10. John Bowman
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Surely the "science" should be coming from aero-engineers not weather forecasters and climate doom-mongers who are to science what Mystic Meg is to the National Lottery.

    It is not in any case the "science" but the precautionary principle at work because we have a "leadership" with no competence to make enquiry and understand available information upon which they can make judgements and risk assessment. We are truly governed by a non-elected, nebulous, multinational bureaucracy to which our "leaders" defer. The only risk assessed is what will happen to their career/jobs if the decision taken is wrong? The null decision is the default: restricting our lives at every opportunity is the means.

  11. HJ
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    This might be an over-reaction by the authorities.

    However, John Redwood's idea that 'transport only' (I think he means 'freight only' as all planes are for 'transport only') planes with volunteer crews is a nonsense. If, indeed, there is a significant risk, it is not only passengers that are at risk but also those on the ground where the flights might crash. Even transatlantic flights travel substantial distances over land (as the London-New York Pan-Am flight that crashed into Lockerbie demonstrated).

  12. Acorn
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Bandits at twelve o'clock red leader. The blighter's are coming out of that ash cloud.

    Just checking the HSE risk analysis Red 2. High risk of the jolly old kite coughing a bit.

    She can take it Bunty, I know the chappy who made this engine, fine fellow.

    Red leader, red leader. I have ash in the cock-pit, repeat, I have ash in the cock-pit.

    Worry not red 3. Flashy forgot to clean out the ashtray over Germany yesterday, it's his bloody Woodbines you know.

    Red leader red leader; bandit appears to be a frenchy; he is signalling something. It looks like he is holding up a passport.

    Red wing return to base, repeat, return to base. We don't have permission from French border control.

    Navigator here; understood red leader, where shall we drop the bomb load before landing? We are 1 mile from overhead Calais.

    Count to twenty and pull the the jolly old levers; red leader out.

    BTW. Good plots of the ash problem at Met Office VAAC site:-
    http://metoffice.com/aviation/vaac/vaacuk_vag.htm

  13. Posted April 19, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I suspect the Met Office & Scilly islands planes & certainly the light aircraft are propellor driven rather than jets, which don't suck in such enormous quantities of air & are thus not so vulnerable to particulate matter.

    I would be reluctant to see decisions about flying being made by politicians rather than expertsfor obvious reasons.

    On the other hand it may be that it was the initial decision that was politically slanted on the "precautionary principle" that nothing should ever be done if the state cann help it. It is said that the decision to stop flying was based on 1 computer model & as the warming alarmism scare has shown, computer models are not reality & the fact that some planes have made successful test flights suggests it can be done.

    Overall I doubt if any of us are entitled to an opinion on this though I would like to see the opinions of some genuine experts not employed by government. The Laki volcano of 1783/4 kept erupting for 8 months & previous eruptions of this one have been immediately followed by larger eruptions from the adjoining Katla volcano so it is likely that this is going to be with Europe for many months.

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted April 19, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      If I may mis-quote Herman Goering "When someone says 'computer model' I reach for my Browning"

    • simon
      Posted April 19, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      Either that propellor is going to be driven by a turbine or a piston engine .

      If a turbo-prop then I can't see why it should not suffer the same sort of problems as a turbo-fan , primarily rapid wear .

      A piston engine on the other hand could have it's air filter blocked severely enough to choke and stop the engine .

      • Posted April 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        Piston engine planes are internal combustion engines & shouldn't be much more susceptible to this dust than cars. The difference is that jets take in an enormous amount of air & therefore dust hitting at up to 600mph.

        I must admit it looks increasingly likely that this is simply another "invent the worst scare scenario you can imagine, call it s The Science & ban something" tactic we have been hit with by the eco-fascists so many times. John's proposal that cargo planes be allowed to fly & see if they work is certainly how the scientific method is supposed to work.

  14. Jonathan
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I'm due to fly back to the UK next Monday so I'm really hoping they sort this total mess out soon. How they could lawfully shut down an entire industry without any proof as to how the ash affects the planes is almost criminal.
    As mentioned elsewhere the airspace was shut down by EuroControl; the name on its own is worrying; but they also appear to have no clue as to how this is affecting the commercial sector.
    On another note; what is the UK Government doing about it? Seeing as the Transport Secretary is not seeking election he should have plenty of time to work on a solution, come up with some ideas or try to help people. So far nothing.
    The EU, once again, shows how incompetent they are; nothing of substance to help their nationals abroad.

    • simon
      Posted April 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes , let's keep flying them until they start falling out of the air .

      • Jonathan
        Posted April 19, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

        Intelligent reply.
        Currently Eurocontrol have only theoretic models as to what the ash will do to a plane's engines; they haven't run any tests to see if it damages engines or planes so it is complete over-reaction to shutdown the entire European air industry with no thought as to alternatives.

        • simon
          Posted April 20, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          Sorry Jonathon but in safety critical issues the onus is on proving that something is safe not the other way round .

          Where is your proof that flying through this particular ash cloud is safe ?

  15. lola
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I don't like flying. Commercial airlines give me the willies. Have you seen the section through the 747 fuselage screwed to the wall in the Science Museum? The alumininium skin is about the thickness of fag paper.

    • gac
      Posted April 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      That's why they banned smoking on flights – people were stealing the airframe to roll their own!!!!!

  16. Kevin Peat
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Is this our wonderful EU inaction ? (In action)

  17. Kevin Peat
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I wish this blog would allow us to go back and correct spellings.

  18. Ray Veysey
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Nothing to do with flying, I just want a lot of people to see it,
    it's from the open europe bulletin.

    "AFP notes that the Commission's proposal for stronger EU control over member states' budgets, which would require national governments to submit their budgets to Brussels before taking them to their own parliaments, could be extended also to non-Eurozone members, EU Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Olli Rehn has said."
    FT EUobserver European Voice EU Observer El País ABC Expansión Handelsblatt AFP

  19. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    All I know is we have had clear blue sky for days and not a sign of any ash on my white window sills. Its just over reaction yet again with no one manageing the situation.

  20. Javelin
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Worse case scenario the ash has got condensed into a thin ribbon and that might bring a plane down. Now compare this risk to the risk of hitting a flock of migrating geese.

  21. adam
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    'eurocontrol' are in control, live from Brussels.

    Not you 200k a year politicians

    At least that who they are putting on my TV screen

  22. Posted April 19, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Nowadays we appear to be too risk averse. The two examples of aircraft suffering from engine failure as a result of flying through an volcanic ash clouds were both (most probably) within a few miles of the volcano. The current volcanic particles could be bigger, but the density of the clouds will be lower a thousand miles or more from the volcano. The risk to an engine going down is very small, especially if the more concentrated areas are avoided.

    Live with climate change the actual level of risk will probably never be objectively known, because a small number of scientist are not going to admit that they have blown things out of proportion, and so caused misery for many.

  23. Tony E
    Posted April 19, 2010 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    As of `10pm, there is a new cloud apparently forming from today's volcanic activity. If this continues much longer, the state won't just own the banks, it will own the airlines as well.

    I wonder if the government had thought of this…?

  24. John C
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    John, you said:

    "permit airlines to send up freight transport only planes where the pilots are volunteers who judge the conditions to be acceptable"

    That is a perfectly reasonable suggestion and I doubt that anyone could reasonably object to this.

    It may be unfashionable to say this but I totally disagree with the attitude "people's safety is paramount – WHATEVER the cost".

    Suppose this went on for months.

    Are we really saying that we should ban all flying based on computer models dreamt up by the Met office even if it cost the European economy went to 10s, if not 100s of billions of Euros?

    People need to get real.

    In the real world people take risks all the time, yet, as a society, we demand that all risk should be eliminated no matter what the cost. This is a glib statement that people trot out all the time. Yet, if you ask the same people if they would be prepared to pay higher taxes to "eliminate the risk" they invariably vote against it.

  25. Posted April 20, 2010 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Solution to the question of ' flying today'?- Make Iceland the hub and deploy our assets there to ferry the stranded home. Simples.

  26. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    According to the BBC Bang! science show the innards of a jet engine reach 1500 degrees, but the volcanic ash melts at 1000 degrees, coating the turbine blades with molten 'glass'. When the engine stops, but cold airflow continues (people are shouting 'We're all going to die!') the melt solidifies and then flakes off the turbine blades as they cool and contract (people are saying 'I wasn't really worried!'). Not a reliable way to fly though.

    I don't know if turbo fans are affected the same way, but I guess piston engined planes would work OK but wear more quickly. I'm not sure that there are many long distance piston engined planes left though.

    • simon
      Posted April 20, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      A piston engined plane would have an air filter which would be susceptible to clogging .

      I've seen a car that would not start due to a clogged air filter . A partially clogged filter could reduce power sufficiently so that the pilot could overshoot the runway on takeoff if they did not abort .

      Even so , as you say it would still wear quicker because the filters don't trap the smallest particles , just as a vehicle engine wears quicker in a sandy desert .

      Another poster said that a jet which did stop near a volcano stopped due to lack of oxygen , not the effects of ash particiles . Saw that BBC model myself , a bit rough and ready !

  27. Posted April 25, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Piston engine planes are internal combustion engines & shouldn't be much more susceptible to this dust than cars. The difference is that jets take in an enormous amount of air & therefore dust hitting at up to 600mph.

    I must admit it looks increasingly likely that this is simply another "invent the worst scare scenario you can imagine, call it s The Science & ban something" tactic we have been hit with by the eco-fascists so many times. John's proposal that cargo planes be allowed to fly & see if they work is certainly how the scientific method is supposed to work.

  28. Posted April 26, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Yes , let's keep flying them until they start falling out of the air .

  29. Posted April 28, 2010 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    I wish this blog would allow us to go back and correct spellings.

  30. Posted April 28, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you..really informative!!

  31. Posted May 4, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    The authorities should consider relaxing the total ban on flights from UK airports to permit airlines to send up freight transport only planes where the pilots are volunteers who judge the conditions to be acceptable.

  32. Posted May 27, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    I wish this blog would allow us to go back and correct spellings.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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