IATA Fears Repeat of 2010 Volcano Crisis


Last year's eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland proved to be a major disaster for air travel. // (c) 2011 Boaworm

Concerned with a repeat of the 2010 Icelandic volcano disaster that crippled international air travel worldwide, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that it is encouraged by the improved coordination of European authorities thus far in managing its airspace in light of the recent Grimsvotn volcanic eruption.

However, IATA also cautioned that the absence of a formal agreement at the political level to respond in a coordinated and harmonized manner leaves passengers and shippers vulnerable to fragmented decision-making. IATA fears a repetition of the 2010 volcanic ash crisis that resulted in unnecessary blanket airspace closures because European states took uncoordinated decisions based on a theoretical ash dispersion model with no empirical testing. 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. 

“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,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and CEO.

Over the last year the European Commission, working with European agencies, including Eurocontrol and airlines, developed a new approach which recommends that:

• States should not implement blanket closures of airspace

• 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, IATA said. 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 which has a proven track record in the U.S. and elsewhere.

“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. 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,” said Bisignani.

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