Version of Newsletter] [Newsletter
Archives] [Advertising Info] [Website Home Page] [Please Donate Here]
Tuesday 20 April, 2010
Some thoughts about the flight disruptions
As feared in last week's newsletter, the
problems are proving to be extended, and each day's optimistic
projection for flights the next day have, so far, failed to materialize.
It goes without saying that the impacts on
people and commerce are enormous. Depending on whether you choose
to count only stranded passengers unable to return, or whether you
include also people unable to start their journey and people unable to
continue their journey, there are easily more than 1 million people
affected. And let's not forget about air freight. Although
airfreight typically comprises only 1% by volume/weight of all goods
shipped, it represents 25% in value of all consignments.
Particularly in Britain, problems may soon start looming in terms of
some food and medication shortages.
And what about the airlines? Everyone
has a different opinion about the financial impact on the airlines, with
widely varying estimates as to how much money airlines are losing each
In actual fact, airlines may not be losing
as much money as first seems likely. The greatest part of an airline's
costs relate to actual flying operations - crew wages, jet fuel, and
aircraft maintenance. While of course, with no flights, airlines
are earning no revenue, their outgoings are much less than if they were
flying normal operations.
However, it seems probable that,
industrywide, the airlines are losing in the order of $100 million every
day - over half a billion dollars already. As far as I can tell,
no airlines have insurance to protect them against this type of risk.
And so, there has been a predictable rush to
demand compensation by the airlines. But, because the volcano in
Iceland is unable to pay, they have turned instead to a usually reliable
source - the governments in the affected countries. Interestingly,
one airline is not seeking any compensation at all. Ryanair.
The usually hot tempered and irascible Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair,
has been amazingly patient and understanding. He is not pressuring
any government to allow his airline to start flying again, and Ryanair
has said they neither seek nor expect compensation for something over
which the governments have no control.
But do the governments have control?
No, of course they cannot control the volcano, its ash, or where it
goes. But, they definitely do control the decisions to close their
respective national air spaces. In this respect, the EU and UK are
different to the US. In Europe, it is the governments that decide
if airlines can fly or not. In the US, our government trusts the
airlines to make the right decision themselves.
While no one thought to question the flight
bans on the first day or two, many airlines (and very definitely, their
would-be passengers too) are now becoming rather impatient. As we
all start to better understand what is occurring up in the air, the
issue of if planes can and should fly or not is far from black and
Surprisingly, no one seems to know much at
all about how much ash is actually up in the air. No-one knows
either how much ash is coming out of the volcano, how rapidly it is
dropping down to the ground again, or exactly where and how it is
dispersed. The underlying weather reports give no information
about the density of the ash, they merely report if there may be ash or
Furthermore, no one seems to know much at
all about how much ash is too much ash from the perspective of engine
damage. But the EU governments - until Monday, at least, have
maintained a zero tolerance policy when it comes to ash.
A number of airlines have now conducted test
flights into the ash clouds. The most high-profile of these was a
British Airways 747 flight on which their CEO, Willie Walsh, was a
passenger as a very public expression of personal confidence in the
safety of flying through the ash. If the airlines are to be
believed, all of these test flights have been conducted safely with no
resulting engine damage detected. The airlines are quite
reasonably saying that if the reality of flying through the ash shows no
damage, surely this trumps the very sketchy theory, and so are seeking
permission to resume some, maybe even most, of their normal operations.
A group of European transport ministers met
by video conference on Monday. The outcome of their meeting is a
reclassification of ash zones. Some air space remains off limits
to all flights. Some ash free air space will now be opened up for
normal operations. And some remaining space will allow limited
operations, with a requirement for the airplanes and their engines to be
carefully inspected after flying through the space, before they fly
This should increase the amount of European
airspace and a number of airports open for flights.
Meanwhile, the volcano refuses to cooperate.
The latest projections for Tuesday flights have had to be cut back due
to yet another apparent increase in ash emissions. The ash cloud
continues to spread out from Iceland in a south and easterly direction.
However, the ash is spreading far and wide; so much so, that some
flights in eastern Canada were canceled on Monday.
So what can we expect? Your guess is
as good as mine. For now, if you had been planning to fly to, in,
or from Europe in the next week or so, you would be very well advised to
consider changing your plans. All airlines have varying types of
no fee change or cancel policies in place at present. I imagine
that contacting most airlines at present may be very difficult. If
you booked through a travel agent, then almost certainly they will be
able to help you.
This also highlights another consideration.
Do you have trip insurance? And, if you do, does it cover such
risks? And, if it does, what is the limit of reimbursement they
Let's not overplay this incident though.
Delays of this duration and extent are mercifully a far from a regular
occurrence. But until we have an accurate feeling about the future
of this volcano, appropriate cover is something to consider when
choosing a trip insurance policy.
You can find out more about trip insurance,
and also access two excellent trip insurance comparison services, in the
multipart series I wrote on the topic here.
There some useful resources about the
volcano and its ash cloud available at the
British weather office website.
That's all for now, folks. But I
wonder if you notice anything different, stylistically, about this short
newsletter? Rather than typing it as would be my first preference,
I have dictated it using the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. I am not
doing this by choice. It seems I may be an unfortunate victim of
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and so, for now, I am attempting to minimize my
Alas, I was and still hope to be an
extremely fast touch typist, and so this dictation system is
frustratingly slow. It also requires a very different thought
process; when typing, the words flow naturally from my brain to the
computer without conscious thought inbetween, rather like the way one
walks to an objective . But now, I need to all the time be hawkishly
monitoring the occasional wild and weird mistakes of the voice
recognition software, and any attempt at an unbroken train of thought
gets completely destroyed.
Stay tuned for the regular newsletter on
Friday, and until then, please enjoy safe travels