Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Met Office Blasted For 'Unnecessarily' Triggering Six-Day British Airspace Closure

source: Daily Mail
by: Paul Bentley

The Met Office unnecessarily triggered the six-day closure of British airspace which has cost passengers, airlines and the economy more than £1.5billion, according to senior officials.

A scientific model based on ‘probability’ rather than fact was used by the government agency to forecast the spread of the volcanic ash cloud, according to critics.

Matthias Ruete, the European Commission’s director general of transport, said air traffic authorities should not have imposed a widespread ban.

He suggested the ban should have been restricted to a 20 to 30 mile limit around the volcano in Iceland.

He said: 'The science behind the model we are running at the moment is based on certain assumptions where we do not have scientific evidence. It is a black box in certain areas.'

Results of 40 or so European test flights over the weekend, including a British Airways flight on Sunday, suggested the risks were not as high as computer models predicted.

None found evidence of any ash in engines, windows or lubrication systems.

'We don’t even know what density the cloud should be in order to affect jet engines. We have a model that runs on mathematical predictions.

'It is probability rather than actual things happening,' Mr Ruete said.

However, NATO have taken the ash threat seriously enough to limit military exercises after volcanic glass built up in fighter engines.

A spokesman from the UK Met Office said while computer models were used to make forecasts, they were being checked against actual evidence.

'We have been sending up instruments since Friday to measure dust levels, such as altered cloud based recorders,' she told the Mail On-line.

'We have also launched special aircraft flown by experienced research pilots to look at the concentrations of dust in the atmosphere.

'On Sunday they detected six layers of ash up to 20,000ft over the UK.

'We are giving this information to the aviation authorities - it is then up to them to judge what action to take.'

Volcanic ash guidelines are drawn up by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN body, however experts say there is no commonly agreed safe concentration of ash.

Airlines have lost an estimated £130m a day in revenue because of the ban.

In a joint letter to Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, the 11 British airlines said the official response to the eruption presented 'a clear case for government compensation'.

Giovanni Bisignani, head of the International Air Transport Association added: 'The chaos, inconvenience and economic losses are not theoretical.'

He said decision-makers should consider setting up 'corridors' to repatriate the estimated 7million passengers stranded across the globe.

However, Professor Joachim Curtis, said this was too dangerous as few airlines had instruments on board that could accurately measure ash particles and only a few are made each year.

Stewart John, ex-president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, added that planes would not necessarily be able to avoid ash even if they could detect it.

'You could think you're safe flying along at 20,000ft rather than up at 40,000ft where the ash is, only to find that the wind has dropped and the ash is now at 20,000ft,' he said.

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