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Airlines to ask for government help

Robert Peston | 17:33 UK time, Sunday, 18 April 2010

British Airways is conducting its own tests of the impact of the ash cloud on aeroplane engines.

A BA Boeing 747 is flying over the Atlantic for up to four hours on Sunday.

BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh, who is a trained pilot, is on board, as is the airline's chief pilot.

The airline's engineers will work through the night to examine the impact of the flight on the 747's four engines. Results are unlikely till tomorrow.

Right now, BA and other airlines are planning on the assumption that they won't be allowed to fly till Thursday at the earliest.

As I pointed out on Saturday, the financial cost to the industry of the cessation of flights is immensely painful, at around £25m a day for BA and - according to the industry group IATA - at least £130m ($200m) a day for airlines collectively.

I would not be surprised if IATA on Monday were to call on European governments to provide financial support to airlines, which face a stiffer financial challenge than even after the collapse in passenger numbers after the 9/11 atrocity.

I would also expect BA and other airlines to urge the government to "stress test" the science that has led to the flying ban.

BA would want to highlight that in the US the authorities operate less constraining safety precautions after volcano eruptions.

"There are six active volcanoes in the world" said an airline executive. "We need to understand why the Icelandic eruption is seen by the authorities to be so much more dangerous than others".

Update 19:11: Airline executives and engineers want to know why they can't be given permission to fly at 20,000ft, below the ash cloud, till the cloud clears.

Also, they're worried that even if they are given permission to fly again in a few days, many people may decide to avoid air travel for an extended period on the fear that the plume and cloud will return.

"We need a permanent solution that reassures people in a proper way" said one airline boss. "Otherwise the damage to our businesses will be even more severe."

As I said earlier, there are deep concerns that some European airlines will be bankrupted by the disruption, unless they're given support by taxpayers.

In the UK, Easyjet is more robust than most.

Its losses are running at between £3m and £5m a day. But it has always operated with a massive liquidity buffer, so that it can withstand being grounded for up to six months.

As for food retailers, the big chains tell me that about one or two per cent of their produce is flown in.

"We're beginning to see a shortage of certain flowers, because Kenya supplies about half our stock at this time of year" said a supermarket boss. "And you'll begin to see less exotic fruit and out-of-season veg".

As for clothing retailers, the impact on them so far has been limited: some so-called "fast" fashion, based on what's in the latest shows, goes by air.

Right now, the biggest impact for business is the sheer number of executives who are stuck abroad, unable to come home.

"The real danger for them is that we'll discover we don't really need them," one business leader joked.

Update 21:38: The BA 747 has now landed at Cardiff after a two hour 46 minute flight, covering 550 miles to the west, over the Atlantic.

The plane took off from Heathrow, and flew through the no-fly zone.

It encountered no problems, no loss of engine performance, no damage to windows.

Engineers in Cardiff will now make a more detailed assessment of the Jumbo's engine over night.

Update 21:50: Earlier today a Met Office plane went through the cloud and encountered dangerous levels of ash.

Which shows that the issue isn't whether the cloud is real and dangerous - but whether its extent can be accurately mapped.

One possible solution is to put observation planes in the sky, to give a more detailed picture of the location of ash concentrations.

The government is therefore trying to obtain more observation planes, from the military in particular.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Can't wait to get the paraffin guzzlers back in the skies, hey Peston?

  • Comment number 2.

    Never mind the airlines, when are governments going to fulfill their responsibilities to their citizens who are stranded - often with limited funds - especially to those stuck in countries like Russia and India who are messing people around due to quibbles over visas?

    And when are governments going to insist that insurance companies who are quite happy to take our money meet their obligations in respect to those whose flights have been cancelled, and indeed to the airlines themselves?

    Or is it that airlines don't bother to insure themselves against not being able to fly? You cannot really blame them given the insurance industry's reluctance to pay out, why waste money on insurance if they're just going to renege whenever they think they can get away with it?

    And please do not talk about 'the government' bailing anyone out. The government has no money of its own, you are talking about OUR money.

  • Comment number 3.

    No we are broke. Sorry.

  • Comment number 4.

    The airlines are right, all European governments should support the industry.
    And the European government in Brussels should be heavily involved in co-ordinating Europes' transport systems in favour of helping stranded people back to their homelands....Otherwise what use is the Brussels machine?
    But the airline industry may have to "shrink" a anyone going to "trust their holidays" to flights, at least whilst this volcano ia active?
    US airlines fly in and out of Hawaii all the time, despite the worlds' most active volcano being in their way.
    The science may be right or wrong, but British Airways and Lufthansa are are right to do some serious testing.
    For the first time in nearly 200 years, Icelands volcanoes are threatening Europe, with dire, but unexpected, consequences.
    And when Sirtsey blew up in the early sixties, hardly anyone flew anywhere.
    I've seen plenty of helicopters and small aircraft buzzing around in the last few days....but...
    You can't put air filters on a jet engine....a very expensive oversight of technology?

  • Comment number 5.

    I can remember watching the Discovery Channel when a BA plane went through an volcanic ash cloud in Asia and all four enginess sucked in ash and ended up shutting down!
    They then glided for a period of time before restarting the engines and the plane managed to continue to the airport ok. The pilot and flight crew were shocked but survivied.Here is some questions to:-
    1)Would anyone want to board a plane if they did resume flights?
    2)Would the pilots be in there right to say no its not safe and suffer the threats from the management team?
    3) If a plane did go down then surely the air line management team would be liable and court cases would follow.

    I understand the financial damage to the business but surely safety has to come before business interests.
    Its not right to play loose and free with peoples lives.
    Also these businesses must have some cash reserves to carry them through incidents like this, if they don`t then how do they manage a strike situation?

  • Comment number 6.

    How is the government going to choose who gets the money?

    Is it on size? Number of flights lost? Money lost? And what about airlines owned through joint ownership (BA/ Iberia)?

    This will prove a nightmare, because coming up with a workable formula that everyone is happy with will prove impossible.

    Good luck to the government who has to sort that out.

  • Comment number 7.

    My daughter and her boyfriend have been stranded in Italy since last Thursday morning and this is becoming a nightmare not helped by the complete lack of sensitivity of Ryanair in now announcing a further embargo on flights, which is completely understandable but timing the announcement for five minutes after their call centre closed. We are now left with being unable to book a further flight or to make enquiries as to any plans the airline has to transport their passengers home.

    I am sure they would say that there is a statement in the small print relinquishing them of all responsibility to safely transport their passengers to the destination of their choice and whilst I am 100% agreement with the flight embargo it is essential that passengers and their families are kept fully in the picture.

    Surely it would not have cost too much to maintain contact with the airline 24/7 in these exceptional circumstances after all the call handlers receive minimal pay whilst passengers are being charged to "sneeze" on board these days.

    Any assistance would be appreciated, btw the Foreign Office helpline has been unavailable all day.

  • Comment number 8.


    I am glad and hopeful with the airlines decision to go looking for government help in the ongoing problems with the Volcanic activities...


  • Comment number 9.

    British Airways is a privately owned company. It became as such when Thatcher privatised it. It should either stand or fall according to market forces

  • Comment number 10.

    I presume then we are going to fly into the cloud, and one random plane will down and that will be the airline to go out of business.

    Casino capitalism, don't you just LOVE IT!

  • Comment number 11.

    Another point its not the management teams call surely?
    There Insurance Company will make the call, if something did happen then its the insurance company that would take the hit. Or will the insurance be null and void?

  • Comment number 12.

    I guess the Insurance Companies will claim Force Majuere eg natural unforeseen disaster so the airline policy will be null and void.
    No airline is going to take that risk!, can you imagine the millions of pounds in damages that would be claimed by relatives if something did happen.
    Then there would be the "duty of care issue", eg the airlines failed in there duty of care to protect the lives of there passengers.

  • Comment number 13.

    As with so many other people a member of my family is caught up in this chaos but he would prefer to drive from Italy to fulfill freelance commitments (which will in no way cover the added expense) than risk being on an aircraft at risk. We all know the authorities are terrified of the no-win no-fee compensation cowboys (who must be licking their lips) but I would far rather walk than get on a jet that could go the way of the BA Jumbo that lost all power in 1982. We must stop being so reliant on flying and get back to thinking outside the norm.

  • Comment number 14.

    I understand airlines wanting to get back to normal, this is a monumental financial and logistical nightmare for them and for everyone who is stranded across the world waiting to get out or into the country. However even if 20000 planes manage to get to their locations successfully the tragedy of 10, 5 or 1 plane having their engines destroyed and possibly incurring death of crew and passengers is not something to be taken lightly. I don't think I could weigh the financial costs with something as important as human life and safety. I just hope whatever decision is made that it is the best one.

  • Comment number 15.

    "You know they've reintroduced the death penalty for insurance company
    "Really?" said Arthur. "No I didn't. For what offence?"
    Trillian frowned.
    "What do you mean, offence?"

  • Comment number 16.

    @teenteentodd: "stranded in Italy"

    In Italy?

    Good grief. You go there on holiday and one day later the place becomes somewhere you get "stranded"?

  • Comment number 17.

    And come on, Rolls Royce.
    The first jet engine manufacturer to perfect the "dustproof jet engine" will make a fortune.....

  • Comment number 18.

    You mean help from RBS and Lloyds?

    Spanish Government - I hope!

  • Comment number 19.

    I'll say it again....In no way should the government (us taxpayers) bail out airlines. They could have taken out insurance for this.
    If anything, they should put a windfall (ashfall?) tax on train, coach and ferry operators since their profits will increase.
    Or put a levy on all future flights to pay back money lost over these last few days.

    But NOT from tax payers. I think flying is already too cheap (no duty on airplane fuel etc).

  • Comment number 20.

    Can someone (Robert, perhaps) explain why when NO airlines are running, what are the costs being incurred?

    - Fuel - no
    - Tax - none to pay
    - Staff - pay only when attending, as we found out from the strike
    - Maintenance - none
    - Depreciation - none
    - Security - none required

    And, with everyone out, there is no completive disadvantage.

    Why do the airlines want public money, it seems rather lost on me.

    There might be no opportunity for profit, but this doesn't equate to their being huge losses.

  • Comment number 21.

    To be honest, I don't see why the government should bail out airlines. I also think they're rash to pile on pressure when safety is a concern.

    I'm concerned about:
    1) Why insurance companies are allowed to wiggle out of any payouts. I understand the small print goes against acts of God, but surely situations like this are the whole reason people buy insurance?

    2) Why haven't the European government started to organise a co-ordinated transport system? Like other posters, if some airports are operating there should be arrangements to at least get Europeans back to Europe.

    3) I really can't figure out what the point is in the European air traffic service... In their press conference a couple of days ago they said nothing useful and basically referred back to national bodies. And then said national bodies may make different decisions. What's the point in these Euro-quangos?

    Hope that everyone who is stranded makes a quick and safe trip back.

  • Comment number 22.

    My daughter and her partner were scheduled to fly to Nice on Saturday morning, en route to Corsica for a cycling holiday – the first holiday they have been able to afford for three years. When the flights were cancelled, the carrier (EasyJet) re-booked them from a different airport for Monday – no complaints about their attitude (no flights on Monday either, but for that the carrier can’t be blamed).
    The costs of accommodation and transport in Corsica, and the hotel costs in France, all pre-paid, have been lost.
    When she telephoned the insurance company, my daughter was told that there would be no reimbursement of costs incurred as this was “an act of God”. Questions:
     Where, or what, is “God”? If this entity exists (other than in the mental constructs of believers in deities), please will the insurance company provide evidence of this Being’s existence?
     If such evidence can be provided (and the beliefs of individuals is not sufficient, as it can be counter-balanced by the similar postulations of those who do not believe), can an insurance company advise me from where?
     Who, within an insurance company, determines that an event is an act of a deity, or a natural event?
     Why do some insurance companies try to avoid payment by reference to acts of “God”, while others do not?
    Volcanic activity is a geo-physical phenomenon in the same way that rain is a geo-physical phenomenon: in certain conditions, it happens. One is subterranean, and one is atmospheric. Both are explicable in scientific terms, and to some extent are predictable – but not inevitably so.
    Travellers (and others) purchase insurance to minimise the (sometimes awful) consequences of unforeseen events, the probability of the occurrence of which is perceived to be remote: so unless volcanic activity or temporary atmospheric pollution is specifically excluded within the policy wording, they should pay the legitimate claims of those people who have suffered financial loss as a consequence of being unable to travel as planned during the time of eruption of the Icelandic volcano. Insurance companies makes huge profits, usually, from assessing risk and selling policies to those who fear risk. If they have to pay out millions of pounds (or dollars, or euros, or whatever – international issue), that’s because their assessment of the probability of such an event, and their failure to consider all the possible consequences, has been inadequate. Why should policyholders suffer from their failure?
    It’s not as though the companies would not raise the prices of travel insurance immediately to recover their losses, is it? So it will be interesting to see which Boards of Directors merit the label “honourable”, and which the label “deceitful”....

  • Comment number 23.

    I agree with stevewo. Great time for Rolls Royce to show us all what it really can do - and if not then GE or whoever provides the engines on flights to Hawaii.

  • Comment number 24.

    For all the British tourists unable to get home and running short of funds,surely this is where the British Consulate should be stepping in
    and helping?

    I am sure we will all manage to eat even without the foodstuffs that are
    normally flown in.

    The businessmen and executives who are stranded? We and they will survive,although their egos might be bruised.

    So that leaves Kenya having to destroy flowers,hopefully they will not
    suffer too much even though profits will be down.

    So,edwardjecle #19 you think that flying is too cheap eh? Remember that
    some flight destinations are to countries that welcome our pounds,you
    know,Africa for example? The countries that were hit by the tsunami? One
    such country dear to my heart is Sri Lanka,which I visited as part of a
    charitable mission,(we built a village of 40 houses with school,shops and
    medical centre)and each lovely person I met asked me to spread the word in Britain about tourism which they rely on so much for their income.
    Theres two ways of looking at things you know.

  • Comment number 25.

    Jet engines can operate at altitude, which allows aircraft to fly efficiently - less drag. Before jet engines were invented the super charged Diesel was the up and coming engine choice. Good overall fuel efficiency - on a weight basis. But flying lower - more drag.

    Perhaps electrostatic precipitators could be used to capture the fine ash particles. Alternatively we will just have to bite the bullet and open up the clearances on the engines. Also drop the operating temperatures. These measures would of course reduce the efficiency of the engines. More expensive tax free fuel used. Oh - and they might be noisier!
    That's progress..

  • Comment number 26.

    nicoursmann: I wasn't aware there was a glacier over the top of Hawaii.

  • Comment number 27.

    The sky has been clear blue over the past few days, what clouds we
    are now gettng are nice and white and clean looking - just how much of
    our sky is actually blocked out by contrails from planes taking groups of louts on stag and hen weekends to Estonia anyway ?

  • Comment number 28.


    1) Insurance is for "known unknowns", "unknown unknowns" are not covered.

    2) Probably because we don't live in a socialist superstate and most people are quite capable of sorting things out for themselves and most governments let their people make their own arrangements.

    3) Like most European bodies, it is for co-ordination. I suspect you've listen to one two many opinions in the tabloids about Brussels running everything.

  • Comment number 29.

    Yorkshire Pullman: In the word of one of our great Lords: "didums".

  • Comment number 30.

    If the BA test flight comes through OK then it has to raise questions over the neccessity of this flight ban. If it can be shown the EU were over cautious then perhaps Brussels should be doing the compensating.

  • Comment number 31.

    Glenis: Whilst this is a nice little conspiracy theory, it is a 'category error' I'm afraid.

    The glass power dust is hanging around BECAUSE we have high pressure over the UK and Northern Europe. That is most of the reason for the clear skies.

    Low pressure or a change of wind will remove the dust, but also bring cold and cloud.

    Shame, really.

  • Comment number 32.

    Wee-Scamp: What does it have to do with the EU? Eurocontrol is not part of the EU, see EUROCONTROL - Governance Structure.

    Don't look now, but I think your prejudices are showing.

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    my heart is bleeding for these suffering airlines !
    Apart from the stranded passengers for whom the airlines seem to be providing very little help. BMI are charging their normal £25 for those asking for a refund and I heard that BA are charging £6 to rebook. Nice !

    Those of us who managed to travel suffered through the short term decision horizon to cancel flights. My flight on Friday was shown as scheduled, until 7am when it was cancelled. Of course the train ticket price had doubled overnight and was far more than the air fare.

    BMI have my email address and mobile phone number - did they use them to keep me up to date - no way - probably would have cost them a few pennies.

    As usual the passengers are the last to be considered by the airlines.

  • Comment number 35.

    I say roll on the new generation of high speed MAGLEV trains across the world. Less energy per kilometer, 400mph+, dead smooth and they don't stop for dust, leaves or the wrong type of snow either because they don't have wheels!
    And, why don't business types who pride themselves on being in the forefront, stop still long enough to see that video conferencing can cover most of their communication needs. Tell that to the company's bean counters, no more hard to explain expenses night outs to pay out for.
    This is especially applicable to the dodgy politicians "fact finding trips" where they get us suckers who pay the bills via taxes while they have a great time on expenses allegedly learning things they say they couldn't discover by other means, complete B******T I think!

  • Comment number 36.

    23. At 8:14pm on 18 Apr 2010, nicoursmann wrote:
    I agree with stevewo. Great time for Rolls Royce to show us all what it really can do - and if not then GE or whoever provides the engines on flights to Hawaii.


    There are other drawbacks to this ash, it is corrosive and abrasive, it isn't just 'dust'. It has been known (and I think the famous Jumbo incident we know of was an example) for the ash to so abrade the cockpit forescreens that they became opaque, and the aircradft I believe had to fly on instruments.

  • Comment number 37.

    Weather this year???
    Cold, snow, late spring and now the wrong type of wind.
    Is nature having a laugh? What is next? After all what can anyone do anything about it?

    I know....moan, we are good at that.

  • Comment number 38.

    Re 36 DevilsAdvocate.
    Yes, you are correct, volcanic ash can be very abrasive.
    But it's possible that airliners could reduce speed to 200 knots, and fly at lower altitudes, and just as they do with thunderstorms, fly around the most concentrated areas.
    However, bearing in mind the incredible technology that mankind has developed, it is amazing that this problem has never been tackled before.
    Things may now change, but it will take time to develop anti dust-ash measures.
    The consequences of this crisis are colossal.....some members of the public have a "fear of flying".....but after this, millions of us may have "fear of travel"....for the airline and tourist industry---total disaster.

  • Comment number 39.

    Airlines and hotels are doing very well at the moment as they are offering limited ot no refunds to travellers unable to travel or reach hotels whilst in the case of hotels charging those that are trapped there, and in the case of the airlines operating at much reduced costs.
    This whole refund and liability situation needs review, urgently. By our incompetent, anti-citizen's rights government though - I guess not.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think stevewo's point that 'it is amazing that this problem has never been tackled before' is right on the button. I can't believe there isn't an aeroengineer out there who hasn't thought about it and tried to do something - the question is has anyone listened to him or her?

  • Comment number 41.

    And we need a third runway at Heathrow because?....

  • Comment number 42.

    The incident over Indonesia all those years ago when an airliner "fell" 20,000 feet before regaining control (with damaged engines) has one very important close to the volcano was the aircraft?
    (i.e. what was the relative density of the ash?).
    Heathrow, Gatwick and many other airports are over 1100 miles from this volcano.
    Does anyone know the answer to the trilion dollar close was it...and is the NATS decision an over-reaction?
    I don't know the answers....time will tell.

  • Comment number 43.

    Volcanic eruptions are not rare events but when was there a reaction like this one. Whose money is on Intelligence Agencies receiving credible information of widespread but non-specific terrorist threats against airlines and just to keep the public in the dark trump up this excuse for a total flying ban?

  • Comment number 44.

    Just ask the residents under the Heathrow flight path if they want the aircraft to start flying again.

    The silence is, to repeat myself, glorious!

    Why is it impossible for us as a society to so arrange matters so that we can all all live in tranquillity? Aircraft must not be allowed to land and take off over populated areas. Move the airports to the coast! Boris's idea is not so mad now is it? Or perhaps we could use fast Eurostar trains to Paris and fly to and from Charles de Gaulle! (After all one of the present plans is to fly to and from Madrid and then by fast train to the UK.) Why do we have to destroy our country so as not to destroy our country's economy?

  • Comment number 45.

    So BA airline's engineers are conducting independent tests; that's good. Information is what we need.
    As for Air Transport Association (IATA)calling on European governments to provide financial support to airlines, I think this move would be premature until we know the duration & total cost.
    As for 6 active volcanoes in the world, the number is closer to 1,000 with most being in and around Indonesia.
    But still we do need to understand why the Icelandic eruption is seen as so much more dangerous than others. According to Iceland's Coast Guard, the eruption did not occur underneath the glacier; this would have caused blasting through an icecap, melting the ice, producing lots of meltwater and flooding.
    In this Icelandic case, the meltwater is reacting very violently with the magma, sort of fragmenting it and creating very, very fine ash, which is then being ejected high into the atmosphere. Apparently this is unusual.
    One aspect of Iceland's volcanoes of particular interest to geoscientists is that within the magmas being extruded there are small amounts of lightweight, light-colored volcanic materials known as felsic rock, which "has no reason whatsoever for being there – it's the kind of stuff found in continental crust, not ocean crust.
    So Iceland is an area of real scientific questions for which I sure don't have the answers.
    Apparently, Iceland sits atop a big plume of mantle rock with a spreading, mushroom-shaped magma dome that is wider than all of Iceland. The current eruption is very interesting because it reportedly has a lot of gas content. In the past such eruptions have contained fluorine which is dangerous to livestock and to people if it settles on crops, etc. It doesn’t seem (yet) that this particular eruption is producing fluorine.
    The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano may signal a more serious volcanic eruption from another volcano - Katla.
    Apparently the two volcanoes have often erupted together and the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull could mean that an eruption from Katla is forthcoming. The Katla Volcano last erupted in 1918 and is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Iceland. Katla erupted very powerfully in 1918 but there are evidence of smaller eruptions after that. Icelandic volcanologists are expecting another eruption in next few years so the Myrdalsjokull glacier and the Katla caldera are monitored quite closely. Just west of Katla and Myrdalsjokull glacier is the Eyjafjallajokull which is much smaller.
    A glacier run is due to the eruption of a volcano under a glacier. The ice over the volcano melts because of the heat, causing water to form a lake under the remaining ice-cap. Then the ice-cap collapses, or the water breaks through the barrier in front of it, and there follows a more or less disastrous flooding - which has not happened with this eruption.
    I wonder if so much care is being extended because there are so many unusual aspects to this Icelandic eruption, and scientists can't quite get a clear picture of why it happened, why it is performing as it is, and when something else might happen.
    There also appears to be almost no interest in the unusual aspects of this eruption - just how much it will cost.

  • Comment number 46.

    Briantist (???) responded to my comments about insurance companies thus: "In the word of one of our great Lords: 'didums'." Perhaps his capacity to understand debate and respond intelligently has been affected by the atmospheric dust? I hope he has insurance for that sort of mishap which, judging by his other short and ill-considered commentaries on the submissions of other contributors, is necessary....

  • Comment number 47.

    Rather interesting how the airlines look to the government for bail outs when they are faced with intractable hard times.
    Compare that scenario with the plight of the manufacturers faced with intractable competition due to globalisation.

    Bail the banks and airlines out.
    Let manufacturing rot.

    I mean you have to get your priorities right..
    No doubt the airlines will claim they are supporting high tech manufacturing. Nope. They are just money grabbers.

  • Comment number 48.

    It's not just Hawaii that can manage flights and active volcanoes, in Mexico City on various occasions there has been very severe ashfall (leaving visible, thick layers of ash on the ground - so that we're talking about conditions much more extreme than the ones in most of Europe, and certainly in Britain, right now) from a nearby volcano, yet the airport has always continued to function, with no crashes. Given that and that several airlines have successfully carried out test flights, this is rather obviously a panic (remember the swine flu hysteria?) rather than a rational response.

  • Comment number 49.

    @20 You don't have much of an idea about the airline industry.


    Debt on aircraft has to be serviced, or leasing costs.
    Airports are not free to park at. BAA charge fees for every plane on the ground. They also charge for each check-in desk, regardless of if it's being used and for lounges.
    Fuel. Airlines have to buy in advance.
    Staff wages. Still have to be paid as they are ready to work - they are not on strike. Call centres are still open, crew stranded down-route, Maintenance still has to be done.
    Catering contracts still have to be paid.

    Aircraft only pay for themselves when they are carrying passengers and in they air.

  • Comment number 50.

    really get fed up with robert preston being an expert on everything.

  • Comment number 51.

    After Willie Walsh and his pilots and engineers have had the aircraft checked out at Cardiff, he should fly around in the "cloud" all night, for several hours.
    If there are no problems, we will all know the truth.
    And he should then do it all again tomorrow...and the next day....same plane.

  • Comment number 52.

    39. At 9:51pm on 18 Apr 2010, italia90

    Yeah, you are right. Your overnment policy should be enforced by every other government around the world! Smile and chill out, relax, and read a book.

  • Comment number 53.

    50. At 10:56pm on 18 Apr 2010, diane wilkes wrote:
    really get fed up with robert preston being an expert on everything.


    Thats not true RP has never claimed to know anything about fractional reserve banking!

    Ie creating money from thin air and then loaning it at interest to some local NIMBY friend to buy Dutch tulip bulbs guaranteed to be backstopped by the FED under their asset papurrchase scheme TILL THE APPEARANCE OF GREEN SHOOTS beyond the ticking of clocks.

  • Comment number 54.

    don't the airlines have insurance for this? or is the problem a cashflow one, rather than an insolvency one?

    at least they can give all those planes a good servicing while they're grounded.

  • Comment number 55.

    Everyone is asking money to the government. Sorry, but can I get some too? I just need to relax a bit as I work too hard and stress is really making me bad.
    God, we are so accustomed to commodity and getting everything quick, that all we do is complain when we break a nail. In Christmas the snow, now ashes, and tomorrow the wind.
    The Earth is exhaling the ashes of the destruction that we are causing every day.

  • Comment number 56.

    Flying 1 (one) 747 to the middle of the Atlantic (and back) cannot be considered a "scientific" experiment to prove the viability of an airspace that takes more than 20,000 flights on a good day. It was yet another stunt. BA should fly 6 757s to Hamburg and back tomorrow. Willie Walsh could be in one of them on a jetset version of Icelandic roulette.
    I cannot stop smiling at the irony of a bankrupt country sending air travelling into bankruptcy.
    The United Kingdom was asking for cash... the Icelandics refused and sent... ash instead.

  • Comment number 57.

    Those of you who don't believe there is ash up, because the sky looks blue and clear there might like to see this...

    It is an animation (old now) from the Norwegian Met Service. The density of the ash shows up well and you can see why it is difficult for the aviation authorities to think about letting aircraft go flying around Europe. The particles are there, but our eyes on the ground cannot see such small particles so far away from us - satellites though are designed specifically for this task.

    As for BA getting a 747, flying around in an ash cloud for 45 minutes, then saying it's safe - that's as bad as some of the cuckoo pilots I have talked to who boast of flying through heavy thunderstorms. You were not skilful, just lucky!

  • Comment number 58.

    Later Norwegian Met Service animation sequences are here...

    The situation is still just as bad.

  • Comment number 59.

    Someone should tell the "IATA" that our Governments have no public funds left for to give them. The Banks got it all, and a big part of the agreement for them getting our money, was that they resumed `lending` money in order to help businesses. Go ask them for financial aid, `What's the problem`?.
    Either that, or ask the industries they do big business with, - ie, the Oil industry - there still raking in £Billions of profit.

    PS: Robert, `you should go up with them next time`.

  • Comment number 60.

    3 hours of flying around in the ash-cloud may not be enough to convince NATS to relax the restrictions.
    However, 24 hours of flying around in it may be enough.(same plane).
    The point is that this is the perfect opportunity to discover the true effects of Icelandic ash-clouds on European aviation.
    And if Icelands' volcanoes stay in a bad mood for years, this research may be vital for the future of the airline industry, and vital knowledge for NATS to make decisions by.
    More, and longer test flights are required by the same planes.....immediately after thorough checks have been made.

  • Comment number 61.

    So Mandelson has mobilised the Navy!Since when was he First Admiral? 'Bout time the government did something, but the cynic in me suspects that this is an electioneering move. I wonder if the little boats ask the stranded passengers if they will be voting labour? Yes means a lift home, no means wait til the ash clears...!

    So we get the wrong snow, wrong rain and now the wrong sort of ash!!!! Perhaps we are using the wrong equipment in the first place!

    Who at these airlines is qualified to question the scientists when said scientists put people's safety first? Typical arrogance of such as Willie Walsh. Let him fly all the arrogant impatient people around through volcanic ash clouds. These people think they are bigger than nature, well let Mother Nature give them a wakeup call. I don't wish death in anyone, but really, they do need to be taken down a peg or two. They're probably worried about their bonuses, and if Easyjet can manage for 6 months, then why can't the other ones who charge so much more? Serves them right for getting into debt, and if they go bust then all those stranded folk will at least finally get help to get home.

    John from Hendon-I live in a seaside village in Kent-I have Lydd airport 10 miles one way (which has expansion plans approved but on hold until after the election), Manston 30 miles the other, and we are on the flight path for many planes. Why do we deserve yet another airport just to suit you? If you don't like airports in cities then move out. I think you just wrote this to be contentious!

    Actually, if the air is clearer here or along the coast in Bournemouth, planes could land at both airports and passngers bussed/trained home. The M20 looks as though it is prepared for Operation Stack, and traffic is phenomenal at the moment. All good for a poverty stricken rural economy down here.

  • Comment number 62.

    Be interesting to see how well companies have coped without some of their head honchos who've been jetting about the world and are now soaking their sorrows in bars in distant lands and charging up their expense accounts. Teleconferencing? Wossat then ..

    As for the dangers of this particular volcano dust - I was under the impression that it was due to the specific geology of the area which made the dust so lethal to jet engines - someone correct me if I'm wrong.

    And if I hear just one more passenger quacking on about the skies being clear and blue and nothing to see and why can't we fly .. sigh. What do they expect to see - billowing clouds of thick smoke covering the skies?

  • Comment number 63.

    The Airlines should have planned for this. Volcanoes have erupted before and, as such, are a known unknown. Exactly what they should be paying business continuity premiums to insurers for. Yet, rather than succeeding or failing on their commercial acument these businesses insist upon being bailed out. Their constant clamour for corporate welfare is tiresome to the taxpayer. Essentially, they want to be rewarded for failure and exempted from liability.

    The Governments of Europe have no duty to bail the Airlines out; but, they do have a duty to their citizenry. If Governments allow commercial flights into the air that exempts the Airline Directors from responsibility for crashes due to ashes. If the Airlines believe that it is safe to fly, they do not need the Government to give permission. They can just accept the unlimited liability that goes with not accepting the flight ban is for the benefit of the citizens.

    Rather than compensating the Airlines for flights not made, the Government could do worse than hold an enquiry into the lack of planning displayed by boards of directors. The volcanic activity of Iceland is well known - it is the basis of Icelandic Power generation. So why have airlines failed their passengers so radically by not planning for such an event? Why are airlines not ensuring that they fulfil their duties to their passengers rather than bleating about hypothetical "losses"?

    In the short term the demands for a bail out look impressive to shareholders. In the long term it simply covers up for the lack of strategic vision at the top of private enterprises. If the Executives in charge of the Airlines are the brightest and the best - competing in world market - then why have they failed to plan effectively for a foreseable, albeit rare event?

    Perhaps the Airlines will be supporting people who are made unemployed through the decisions of their managers. Although, it seems it is not proper to bail out individuals, only corporations.

  • Comment number 64.

    It turns out that the volcano ash forecasts come from a computer simulation at the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in London, which is part of the British Met Office, as is the CRU. It is a total disaster like their climate models and weather forecasts.

    LOL !!

    However, German airlines Lufthansa and Air Berlin said the decision to close much of Europe?s airspace was not based on proper testing.

    The said that their aircraft showed no signs of damage after flying without passengers. ?The decision to close the airspace was made exclusively as a result of data from a computer simulation at the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in London,? Air Berlin chief executive Joachim Hunold said.

    Not a scratch

    Not one single weather balloon has been sent up to measure how much volcanic ash is in the air.

    Lufthansa spokesman Klaus Walter added. The flight ban, made on the basis just of computer calculations, is resulting in billion-high losses for the economy

  • Comment number 65.

    No No No government money should go to these private businesses!
    They should have a crisis fund to cover such emergency situations!
    Probaly all gone in bonuses again to the top management teams!
    Tell you what I am struggling to pay my mortgage a need government financial help I am to important to fail. After all I spend money in all these businesses so you need to keep me a float too, the economy depends on me!
    This is how silly its getting now.
    Probaly all wanting to get the planes back in the sky because the annual bonus is threatened.

  • Comment number 66.

    Costs being incurred would be the major one of parking the aircraft, which isn't cheap.

    Currently all Monarch Airlines flights are canceled so lets take their fleet size (30) and the average aircraft weight (109,000KG.)

    Now using airport parking charges for the aircraft, I'm using Gatwick in this example, we can calculate an approximate cost for the aircraft just sitting there.

    The cost of parking an aircraft is £4.82 + 7.5p per metric tonne, per 15 mins.

    £4.82 + (7.5p*109) = £12.99
    Per Day is £12.99*4*24=£1,247.04
    Multiplied by number of grounded aircraft £1,247.04*30=£37,411.20
    Going by the info on NATS' website the airspace will have been closed for at least 4 days before this ends, adds up to £149,644.80.

    Thats only rough calculation, and won't include costs for staffing, or anything else. Now when you add up all the carriers together this makes a huge amount of money just to park the aircraft.

  • Comment number 67.

    Too high to fail?

  • Comment number 68.

    I work as a scientist (I have a Ph.D). Some of my work has been involved with the aviation industry, though not related to this. I simply do not believe it is possible to do propor tests in the time since the erruption. Any work I've done, in different fields, I find it takes a lot longer to analyse properly. Having 1000 people analysing the data does not help, as coordinating them is difficult.

    As such, I believe the tests are flawed. Running an aircraft around in the sky and it not crashing is not what any sensible scientist would calling propor reserach.

  • Comment number 69.

    68. At 02:04am on 19 Apr 2010, DaveK

    I don't buy it either. Also consider the credibility spectrum of vested interests.....

    What tests would you suggest?

    Jacques Cartier, have you thought about what tests should be done to begin giving us answers (assuming your experience with physics, engineering and satellites would be useful here)?

  • Comment number 70.

    Some observations:

    There does seem to be a lot of 'revelling' in the aerospace ban, I am wondering: was it the UK Met office and NATS that started the 'blanket ban' trend across Europe, and the rest followed like sheep?

    This whole saga has a peculiar British doom-and-gloom "global warming" feel to it.

    The Met office say their plane went through "Dangerous levels" of ash, yet all the commercial tests were uneventful; meanwhile you have UK newspapers talk about "DEADLY" volcano ash.....

    I remember how excited journalists when it all went wrong for the opening of Terminal 5.

  • Comment number 71.

    The only technical solutions I've thought of are a) having sensors on the plane to sense the density of ash in the air, if plane encounters ash pilots switch off engines (and maybe operate a cover over the engine) and descend to low altitude before restarting them. and b) having redundant engines which are switched off and only started if theres a problem with the main engines, again after descending to an ash free altitude - for example a 3 engined plane that can fly relatively efficiently on two engines but can be kept in the air with just the remaining one.

  • Comment number 72.

    Oh dear.

    I see the Flight attendants Union position being strengthened here.

    If BA needs a government handout for 4 days of non operational losses, then surely, the Union should strike while the iron is hot and announce a new strike date of next week, just in time for a resumption of services.

    If their timing is right, BA and by proxy the government, will be very worried.

    I am surprised the Union haven't seen the opportunity for themselves.

  • Comment number 73.

    63. At 00:57am on 19 Apr 2010, hubert huzzah wrote:

    The Airlines should have planned for this. Volcanoes have erupted before and, as such, are a known unknown.

    Gotta love that George W Bush principle ... Known unknowns.
    Go back to sleep Hubert your time here is done.

  • Comment number 74.

    As briantist and stevewo have pointed out - and it bears re-iterating. BA test flights in a 747 are simply playing Russian roulette.

    To my knowledge the Finns have sent up two sets of fighter jets and both tests returned with fan blade abrasion.

    There are specialist aircraft designed for testing this situation, fancy a 747 in your lap at 300 kph?

    Corporate responsibility legislation anyone? no thanks, we have self regulation. Ha. I have no words left to describe my feelings regarding this stupidity. Science first please.

  • Comment number 75.

    I believe that the same test aircraft used yesterday should be back in the air now (KLM, Lufthansa and BA).
    If pilots think it is safe to fly, and will fly them for several hours in the ash-cloud (over sea areas), they should be allowed to do so.
    We will not find the truth about the Icelandic ash threat by sitting on our hands.
    Willie Walsh and his colleagues have shown the way forward.
    More tests, longer tests, by the same planes.....followed by thorough inspection of planes and engines.
    The airline industry need answers.
    The tourist industry needs answers.
    The airport industry needs answers.
    The supply industry needs answers.
    The stranded passengers need answers.
    More tests now....let's get on with it.

  • Comment number 76.

    "The known unknowns and the unknown unknowns" was actually Donald Rumsfeld - a much smarter (and more dangerous) cookie than Dubya.

    @bpx, you say,
    "Why haven't the European government started to organise a co-ordinated transport system?"
    What European government? The one that tells the London buses when to run? The one that settles the railway repair timetable in Lithuania? The one which tells the Dutch where and when they can drive their cars?

    There IS no European government - a European civil service, certainly, European courts, indeed - even a European Parliament. But there is not, yet a fully integrated policy-making, project-managing outcome monitoring European body coordinating transport policy. Perhaps there should be, but there isn't.

    Oh, and all those who have decided that there is only computer in the world which has any data on this ash cloud, and that one is British. Wake UP! Look at the satellite photos, look at the Norwegian Met Office projections. Ask yourselves if the French are seriously going to close their airspace on the word of a British forecast alone.

    Look at the update to Robert's blog at 21:50

    "Earlier today a Met Office plane went through the cloud and encountered dangerous levels of ash.

    Which shows that the issue isn't whether the cloud is real and dangerous - but whether its extent can be accurately mapped."

    So we know something is out there, but not where it is. A bit like terrorism, where everyone seems happy to let governments do whatever they please in the name of the "War on Terror."

    This may be over-reaction. Most such measures are, but there would have been one almighty stink if an aeroplane, just one aeroplane, had gone down. "Why didn't anyone close the skies - couldn't they see it was dangerous?

    Perhaps if it were labelled, "The War on Volcanic Glass Dust," and someone appointed a "Tsar", everything would seem reasonable.

  • Comment number 77.

    Should the general election be postponed?
    Should the electioneering stop?
    The three biggest industries in this country and the world are under severe threat, aviation, tourism and aerospace supply, and millions are stranded.
    This ash crisis is now an election issue, and is very likely to effect the outcome of the election, depending on government action.
    The country is facing an emergency situation.....should we be fiddling around with elections at the moment?

  • Comment number 78.

    Howcome when I phoned the aviation board last week and told of numerous light aircrat flying over and even some polot doing acrobatics that the advise was (Pilots are only advised not to fly) Now I hear on the news of two planes coming down near me. 1 in bourne and 1 at Duxford. All other commercial aircraft are grounded and thus causing havoc for some businesses and holiday makers. So please tell me how come these small aircraft are still aloud to fly about when there are people below them who would prefer not to have the hazard of one of them landing in vicinity. I do think the aviation people should also ban them whilst the hazard is of volcanic ash is still posing a problem. But hey ho they can go fly into there volcanic sunset and not give a flying XXXX about those below or the services that have to clear up after them.

  • Comment number 79.

    Let's travel by boat. As the sea level increases, we can reach more places than ever before.

  • Comment number 80.

    An excellent article! Please update it ASAP with news on why the American regulations on Air Traffic Control, which include the recent experience of flying in volcanic ash which we do not have - are not being followed in Europe.

  • Comment number 81.

    If the airlines get help, then I should call for a local government help package! For every £ of help given to the capitalist sector, we pay for it with our jobs.

    We have low wages and little job security thanks to previous cutbacks, no perks, bonuses, or other niceties you all enjoy. Our jobs may not be sexy, but you will notice us when we are gone (and on the dole)

    You won't pay any less in tax, but will find you pay extra for the private companies to empty your bins and fix your roads.

    This is what has happened to pest control. Was your ctax cut? no, but you have to pay for rats and mice to be caught, where it used to be a council service!!

  • Comment number 82.

    Hurrah - the government has woken up 4 days of doing nothing - UK consulates have ben their uusual unhelpful but pampered selves around the world and the government here been focused on the more important issue of trying to keep itself in power. Now they are active, after their enjoyable weekends no doubt and have decided to meet (Cobra no less) to discuss the crisis. Spain is the bright idea - a solution people I was talking to on Friday had already come up with then. Look forward to Labour making capital out of this whilst probably actually doing nothing thmselves. The usual.

  • Comment number 83.

    I'm sure the airline industries don't need reminding of the old mantra... but just in case: "If you think safety's expensive, wait until you have an accident".

  • Comment number 84.

    The 1982 BA009 flight over Indonesia was at night - they could not see that they were flying through ash so thick that it was like a white out blizzard, so thick it stripped the paint off the plane, so thick that when it came into the cabin the passengers could not see the length of the plane and were choking. Basically, without knowing it, they were in the hiroshima type plume you see on the tv coming out the top of the volcano.

    That is not what we have over the top of europe.

    It is about time proper objective test flights are carried and the results examined in a sensible manner by the authorities. It should have been done on the first day, not on an ad-hoc basis by airlines but by the apropriate authorities so that the results can be trusted.

    At the moment I can see why the ban came in as a precautionary measure, but there is really no good evidence to support it continuing. It is about time the tests were done and evaluated.

  • Comment number 85.

    Just a thought but if you want to get home from hliday why not ask a small plane pilot as they have been flying freely about, some even doing acrobatics. They obviously are immune to the volcanic ash problem. Or are they two have come down in my area. Why can they still fly yet all others are grounded. Is there something special about them?

  • Comment number 86.

    Who would ever have thought that such a small country could make so many headlines in such remarkably different ways. Whatever will they do next.

  • Comment number 87.

    Whilst traveling on the railways I have been delayed by many natural events: fire, flood, wind, snow, landslide and once, most memorably by a swan on the line - I still have visions of the large swan staring down the driver of the train.

    Please let the morning train be delayed due to ash and I can add volcano to my list of events causing British trains delays

  • Comment number 88.

    Peston do you ever bother to do any balance sheet analysis?
    None of the majors will go bankrupt or anything near because of this.

  • Comment number 89.

    been watching [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator].
    Only flight over western europe a TUIflyNordic 757 from Azores to stockholm!
    It's now descending to land. Seems flying at 38000 feet over Portugal Spain, Frnce, Belgium, Netherlnds and Germany was OK!

    The viking spirit is alive!

  • Comment number 90.

    Unfortunately our economy is in tatters. One presumes the people in far flung reaches of the world afforded their airfair and holiday so they will have to get back by whatever means is necessary.
    This is a natural disaster and our government (ie: We) cannot afford to keep bailing people out.
    There will obviously be cases which are not straight forward and these would need to be viewed on a case by case basis.However, the majority need to dig deep and find a way to get home or wait it out.
    Also airline bailouts are out of the question.

  • Comment number 91.

    "7. At 6:36pm on 18 Apr 2010, teenteentodd wrote:
    My daughter and her boyfriend have been stranded in Italy since last Thursday morning and this is becoming a nightmare not helped by the complete lack of sensitivity of Ryanair in now announcing a further embargo on flights, which is completely understandable but timing the announcement for five minutes after their call centre closed. We are now left with being unable to book a further flight or to make enquiries as to any plans the airline has to transport their passengers home.

    I am sure they would say that there is a statement in the small print relinquishing them of all responsibility to safely transport their passengers to the destination of their choice and whilst I am 100% agreement with the flight embargo it is essential that passengers and their families are kept fully in the picture."

    As a european air line ryan air are duty bound to provide alternative flight, and FOOD and HOTEL accomodation for the duration of the wait.

  • Comment number 92.

    If it goes on another 10days will brown decide its a natioonal desister and need/be duty bound to cancel the election?

  • Comment number 93.

    The support the airlines need is to get flying again. The bar to flying has clearly been set too low.

    The airlines operate on a virtually tax free basis due to international conventions so they already get plenty of government support compared to other industries.

    The government should start to focus on helping the people trapped by the absence of expected flights.

  • Comment number 94.

    I strongly object to MY government using MY money to help private companies. We are already on a slippery slope that we must avoid going further down.

    Who gave the government the right to decide which business or industries should be supported and which others left to stand or fall on their own? If we go this way we might as well quit the pretense and nationalise all industry, put everybody on the government payroll and sing "The Red Flag".

    Airlines must price events like this, however remote the prospect, into their business plans and they should ensure that they are covered if one of these events occurs. Failure to do this means that they have made excessive profits in the past, have been running an unsustainable business model and should be punished for this failure.

    Any intervention from government is purely arbitrary and a gross misuse of public funds. If the public wants to bail out the airlines they can do this directly by paying higher fares in the future. Obviously then the market will determine whether or not sustainable demand exists for the services the airlines offer at a price they are happy with.

  • Comment number 95.

    Airlines reliant on Business travel may need help. As time goes on businesses, and even politicians, may find video conferencing, even personal systems like Skype, will save time and money. Replacing just some air travel could have a big effect on airline profitability.

    Is this the trigger for video conferencing to take off? A fax moment like the UK postal strikes in the 80's? Just look at how many laptops now boast a Webcam?

  • Comment number 96.

    #43. fluffybunniescloudsandkittens wrote:

    "Whose money is on Intelligence Agencies receiving credible information of widespread but non-specific terrorist threats against airlines and just to keep the public in the dark trump up this excuse for a total flying ban?"

    Only the Internet Crazy Conspiracy Theorists'.

  • Comment number 97.

    An air industry spokesman has just said that in the aircraft incident over Indonesia on which the blanket-ban is based, that aircraft flew RIGHT OVER THE CRATER of the volcano at night.
    We are 1100 miles from this volcano.
    Get those jet test flights back in the air again.
    Every hour that they are flying through this dispersed ash zone without damage is vital knowledge to the industry and NATS.

  • Comment number 98.

    85. At 08:32am on 19 Apr 2010, loobyloo wrote:
    Just a thought but if you want to get home from hliday why not ask a small plane pilot as they have been flying freely about, some even doing acrobatics. They obviously are immune to the volcanic ash problem. Or are they two have come down in my area. Why can they still fly yet all others are grounded. Is there something special about them?

    The light aircraft in question a) do not have jet engines, so are not at risk, and b) fly at much below the current altitude (20,000ft) of much of the dust due to having non-pressurised cabins etc.

    Those are the only two reaons I can think of anyway. Maybe there are others due to them being privately owned or something.

  • Comment number 99.

    Your note that the Government are seriousely considering bailing out the airline industry in a bank-like support package of taxpayers money just about takes the biscuit. I don't remember seeing the airlines lining up to dish out lashings of cash to all and sundry when they were making profits hand over fist. My tax pennies? over my dead body. About time there was a serious re-alignment of expectations in my view. freeloading, nose-in-the-trough whingers. Either be in business and accept or mitigate the risks that go with it or retire to Bognor.

  • Comment number 100.

    stuck in sweden with no way home, all i can do is wait doe the skies to clear

    and hope if the uk goverment decide to sent out ships to transport people home that they dont forget the people stuck in the north of europe

    with no credit card and only a little bit of money left to buy food i and my little girl have no way to arrange for trans, boats or busses to get home and all we can do is wait and hope for some good news or a bit of help from the goverment thats always quick and happy to collect taxes


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