Airlines Blast Airspace Closure

Airlines Blast Airspace Closure

European governments and air navigation service providers must develop more precise procedures to identify ash contaminated air space and allow more flights, said the International Air Transport Association after more than 1,000 flights were canceled May 17 due to further volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

“This problem is not going away any time soon. The current European-wide system to decide on airspace closures is not working,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and CEO. “We welcome the operational refinements made by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in their theoretical model but we are still basically relying on one-dimensional information to make decisions on a four-dimensional problem. The result is the unnecessary closure of airspace. Safety is always our number one priority. But we must make decisions based on facts, not on uncorroborated theoretical models.”

Bisignani cited France and the UK as examples to follow. France has enhanced VAAC data with operational expertise. UK Civil Aviation is working with airlines and manufacturers to more accurately define tolerance levels.

Bisignani called for more robust data collection and analysis, a change in the decision making process and urgency in addressing the issues.

“Volcanic ash is a new challenge for European aviation. We can understand that systems need to be developed to cope. But what is absolutely inexcusable is the failure of Europe’s governments to act urgently and collectively to provide real leadership in a crisis. We have vast amounts of data from over 200,000 safe flights ready for analysis to support an urgent review of the current processes,” Bisignani said.

Bisignani is traveling to Montreal for meetings with the International Civil Aviation Organization on Wednesday. He will meet Roberto Kobeh-Gonzales, President of the ICAO Council and Raymond Benjamin, ICAO Secretary-General. “It is important that we act urgently and globally to better deal with this crisis and to lay a solid foundation for better decision making in future eruptions. Even as Europe stumbles with its fragmented approach, IATA is working with the global community through ICAO and by tapping into the experience of leading regulators like the US FAA to facilitate harmonized solutions,” said Bisignani.

-- Contact Thomas L. Gallagher at tgallagher@joc.com.