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20 April 2010

Responses to Survey on Volcanic Ash Flight Rules

In yesterday's article on the desire of airlines to change volcanic ash flight restrictions, conducted a poll to gauge readers' opinions about the proposed changes in airline procedures. In less than a day, 157 readers responded to the following questions:
  • Are current volcanic ash restrictions acceptable?

  • Should the rules be changed as soon as possible?

  • Have you been affected by the current situation?

  • Will you fly in or to Europe in the next month?

  • Is it safe to fly in or near volcanic ash?

A total of 157 people responded to at least part of the survey, and most were satisfied with the volcanic ash rules that were in effect before the recent eruption of the Icelandic volcano.

Of the 103 people who were satisfied with current volcanic ash flight restrictions, all but three of them thought that it was also unsafe to fly in or near volcanic ash. Of the 44 who didn't agree with current rules, all but 13 also agreed that it was unsafe to fly in or near ash.

While some airlines and airline groups are in favor of changing volcanic ash rules as soon as possible, only about a third, 57 out of 157 agreed with these airline industry leaders. Surprisingly, the proportion favoring change were not that different between those who have been affected by the current situation and those who have not. Of the 51 who have been affected by the current situation, 17 favored changing the rules. This compares with 105 who said they had not been affected, of whom 40 favored rule changes.

The story is a bit different for the 65 respondents who expect to fly to or within Europe in the next month, with 30 of them wanting the rules to change soon.

A number of the respondents also provided feedback to the survey request, Tell us what you think about this situation. Below, with some minor spelling and grammar corrections, are the responses:
  • Sure it is not safe to fly near volcanic ash, but the airlines may change their routes with the authority approval. I think the measures taken were too restrictive, it lack more analysis of the situation.

  • I have flown over 2 million miles to over 60 countries of the world in a variety of aircraft and weather situations. However, I would NEVER climb aboard an aircraft if I knew it was going to be flying into volcanic ash. Being a bioengineer, I know the ramifications of jet engines flying in that environment and what damage could result. I would not feel safe at all. I'm actually very surprised that seasoned pilots want to take their planes full of passengers through the ash clouds.

  • Don't take any risks at all

  • Just in the very few days since this started, there has been damage to some aircraft - which European airlines who choose profit over safety ignore. For engine manufacturers there is no acceptable level of ash ingestion. Why do LH and KL (Lufthansa and KLM) think they know better? Even if there are no short-term problems (which I would not bet on), not nearly enough is known about the long-term effects of ash on jet engines. It's incredible that airlines like LH or KL, which one used to trust, can assert that just because there is no visible damage to a few test aircraft, it's safe to send planes into a constantly-changing, unpredictable mix of clear air, fine ash and heavier ash.

    I would not like to be a passenger on a trans-oceanic ETOPS route 3 hours from the nearest airport on an aircraft that had regularly flown in today's conditions. Engine life will be much reduced. The replacement costs are unpredictable but potentially huge. And the insurance implications are frightening. If now or in the future a plane crashes because of ash exposure, despite all the warnings and the history, neither the airline nor its insurer would have a leg to stand on and might not survive the pay-out.

  • If the airlines deem it safe to fly in, around, above or below the ash I am willing to fly under those conditions. My wife & I are flying to Zurich the first of June and do NOT want to cancel or change plans.

  • As the spreading of the volcanic ash is unpredictable due to environmental factors, airline should has a plan to counter any foreseeable situation such as:

    1. All airports near to the area are to ensure all flight traffic are closely monitored;

    2. Extra manpower deploy to controller tower for emergency response and and ensure standby crews on alert;

    3. All pilots flying through the area must be trained to respond to emergency situations when encounter incident causes by volcanic ash;

    4. Pilots provide information to ground stations on visibility whenever flying through the area for data and information analysis, as well as to alert other airlines in case of anomaly;

    5. Airlines should consider taking longer route if needed to avoid the area.

  • My husband, baby and I flew back to Paris the day the Paris, Charles De Gaulle airport closed. Our flight, from Dallas, TX was extended 1 hour (in flight) due to the volcanic ash. Instead of flying in over the UK (and the North), we came in from the south, delaying our arrival. I was thankful we were rerouted and didn't go through the ash, even though at the time I didn't understand the risks. I think each airline should conduct tests to see if it is safe, before flying through the ash. Customer safety should be the priority. If they fly too soon, and there are crashes, or casualties, that will cost more than the money they're losing by delaying the flights.

  • Current changes proposed are driven by $$$$$.

  • Lesson 101: Always - safety first. Never put a commercial aircraft - in any potentially dangerous situation, which can be avoided, This can be achieved by suspension of flights into known ash conditions. Europe does not have live satellite coverage, and ash does not show up on aircraft weather radar systems. Too dangerous to even contemplate, resumption of flights - as ash 'melts',at around 1100 degrees - engines run at about 1400 degrees. The ash plume is not static and 500 tons of ash a second are being propelled into the atmosphere by the volcano, and then distributed by prevailing winds in numerous directions, and intensities, at various flight levels. Far too many unknowns, to place any aircraft at risk - in fact - potentially a 'life or death' risk , when it is totally preventable.

    An accident waiting to happen, if airlines put commercial pressures first, and ignore the the significant safety risks indeed - 'life threatening' risks from the volcanic ash.

  • The only evidence we have is based upon aircraft that have had serious problems when encountering volcanic ash. The risk factor therefore has to be rated as high until we can prove that aircraft can safely pass near to the ash.

    Should at this time, any aircraft encounter problems that result in a loss of life the airlines stand to lose the confidence of the traveling public not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. therefore the airlines have to tread very carefully before reinstating flights.

  • The situation where an airline would be expected to assess the risk would create a classical conflict of interest, and it is a rule that such situations should be avoided (e.g. in scientific publication, where high level of reliability is required - a situation unexpectedly similar to passenger aircraft operation). I think this rule should be followed, and airline managers are not the best persons to assess the risk. Moreover, I don't like the situation when somebody would measure my safety in dollars.

    Eric Moody, captain of British Airways flight 9 on June 24, 1982, during which all four engines failed due to volcanic ash, speaking about the current situation said, "I don't know how thick this ash is, but I wouldn't go anywhere near it if it was me." (end of video at

    I agree with Moody! It is best for the restrictions to continue for flights with passengers. Just because test flights so far have not had any problems does not mean there won't be any problems. All it takes is one flight having a problem for there to be a tragedy. What happens if a weather pattern pushes ash into an area where it was unexpected? What happens when a flight has an emergency not related to the ash, and it has no choice but to change altitude, perhaps flying into the ash?

    This would be a good time for airlines and governments to research the behavior of the ash. Perhaps ways can be developed to reliably predict the movement of the ash and ways for flights in the air to detect or be informed of and avoid unexpected movements of the ash. With good scientific data, there will be a better basis for assessing the risk. I don't think we know enough right now to assess the risk well enough. That being the case, the prudent course of action is not to fly.

    I would also like to know what kind of testing airplane and engine manufacturers do, if any, to determine how much ash airplanes can handle flying through. Have engine designs improved in recent years to better handle flying through debris such as ash?

    I don't think it's a good idea for airline management to be the ones to decide whether it is safe to fly with paying passengers. They are under too much pressure to make money to have good judgment. It could also easily lead to pilots being made to fly when they don't think it's safe enough. It is essential that regulators lead the way in making these decisions, and that the primary concern be the preservation of human life.

    I think it is hard for people to accept any delays in a world of instant gratification. Sometimes natural events like this happen, and patience is very much a virtue.

  • In my opinion, flights should not resume in the area of the volcanic ash, until the eruptions stop, and the ash dissipates. There is danger with ash getting sucked into jet engines and clogging them.

  • As always, the airlines put the almighty dollar--or Euro--ahead of public safety. Airlines that are pushing aircraft to fly into volcanic ash should be ashamed of themselves.

    The last question is not a simple as it is. It should not be up to government controllers to determine whether it is safe to fly or not. 99.9% of them don't have the slightest clue to flight. It should be up to the airlines, and ultimately the aircraft commander who decide if it is safe or not. If a passenger determines they don't want to go or not, that's up to them to board or not, but they shouldn't get a refund. Just like how people who don't board because of thunderstorms or something don't get reimbursed if a pilot in commander determines the conditions to be safe, same should apply here.

  • All experts should make cooperation and judge the situation, if it safe to fly or not.

  • Safety should be first.

  • "It is better be on the ground wishing to be airborne, than being up there with a total engine loss wishing to be safe on the ground". Now the pressure to change the rules will be a more economical influence than a safety initiative. This inverts the basic aviation philosophy.

  • Total overkill once again in order to serve the minds of the weak or uninitiated who will believe that any deviation from the normal has a dangerous and fatal effect to everybody on the planet. This event has provided us with a perfect opportunity to carry out tests in order to evaluate the real levels of danger and effects etc,so lets not pass it up,the gathering of knowledge is only obtained by tests and experiments.

  • The civil aviation authorities should have contour bands in and around the satellite images. Then allow flights in the outer most band and do detailed inspections. If everything goes well, then allows flights in the next band and so forth. When a given band raises concern, they should back off one band level and go with that forward since there are currently no set ash standards. That way aviation progresses and we real time establish practical limits until more research and knowledge can be gained. I think under no circumstances should aircraft be allowed to fly directly in or near the center of the actual emission plume.

  • I am in Europe trying to get home. I would like your opinion Dr. Curtis, what should I do? Hang out here, rent a boat. I don't care how much its going to cost the airline, if I am dead that is a much bigger problem, at least to me!!!!

  • Ask the insurance companies how they feel about planes loaded with passengers taking this risk. I suspect

  • I do believe that flying within an area very close to a erupting vulcan and entering in a high ashes contaminated area would be very dangerous. I do remember well the KLM flame out since I was still working for that airline, but that was a different story. Nowadays I believe that some kind of hidden speculation is behind the whole story.

  • I invite all of us to remember what happened in 1982, 24 June, to the flight BA 009 Boeing 747, en route from the United Kingdom (London) to New Zealand (Auckland), in its five-hour hop from Kuala Lumpur to Perth.

  • I agree with the BA position: Authorities must collect and distribute info about the ash location and concentrations. Airlines must remain responsible for staying safe and thus over flying where and when (not).

    Politicians and airline management should not have the right to over ride safety regulations
    No opinion on first two questions without a full knowledge of the current situation which can change every day. How can you evaluate properly the risks by only one day test flights? Volcanic ash density is the main issue. No doubt that the aircraft will face severe damage entering in a visible volcanic ash clouds, especially in the clouds or during night when there is no possibility for the pilot to detect the high concentration presence.

    The very fine particles below 1 micron in volcanic ash, (not visible) can create severe damage which can be discovered after longer exposure. Visible fouling effects on compressor's blades could be detected with lack of thrust by the pilots after many flights

  • Ashtam with area coordinates and flight level restrictions may open skies up to a 70% with new temporary corridors. Economy needs brave decisions

  • Now that ash no longer exists at aircraft cruising altitude, the exposure of an aircraft in a normal flight pattern is much reduced. Similarly, there must be some sort of diffusion of the ash taking place as it travels southwards from Iceland.

    It would be appropriate to make a decision to fly when the ash concentration reduces sufficiently - even if it doesn't go down to zero. I think cargo only flights should be restarted first, with passenger flights restarted at a lower ash concentration.

  • Sure it's safe to fly in the ash ... until there is an accident. It's probably cheaper for the airlines and transport companies to pay compensation to survivors and next of kin than it is to not be flying at all until the ash cloud dissipates. That's how it worked with the Ford Pinto, right?

  • We are told that the large major eruption of this mountain lasted for two years, but this was before aviation. If this happens again and the present excessive curbs continue, aviation as we know it will cease, and those of us with families in the Americas, Australia etc, will only be able to see them on webcam. Aircraft sometimes fly through flocks of birds, surely more dangerous that minute particles of ash. Surely, with the deep blue skies we have seen regularly over the UK, the amount of ash must be negligible or non-existent

  • It is very strange that there are no measurements of the volcanic ash in the different air layers. At the moment there is a cloud and no one knows the concentration. I could imagine that in certain countries more knowledge is available about concentration and risks for certain airplanes. I wonder if this could be used in Europe to deal with the problem.

    Again, if you know nothing a precautionary principle is the right one. It is better to say afterwards we were stupid, than that somethings dreadful happens. And as always, be careful for economic reasons.

  • the great risk is if one aircraft's engines shut down and they fail to land safely. Every one's view will change again. If the met office can show rainfall why cannot its radars be tweaked to show volcanic ash?

  • Safety first!

  • In all of my years crossing the North Atlantic as BA Crew I always found the normal wind flow was from west to east. The latest graphic on this page clearly shows the ash heading West! I can't explain this but on the basis of the weather forecasts the the UK Met office issue I wouldn't believe anything they say about the ash.

  • While there are strong reasons to change the rules, please take necessary steps and research, and especially time to ensure safety.

    Bottom line of safety - no injury, no loss of life, both actual and potential, for now and consequentially.

    Lets not let the idea of not losing money results in lives lost.

    If these criteria are met, please go ahead and change rules.

  • Think Willie Walsh (head of British Airways) is correct - airlines are in the best position to asses risks in conjunction with customers (who may or may not like to fly)

  • Despite the obvious number of incidences involving volcanic ash world-wide, airlines & aviation regulators etc should have devised an acceptable procedure or at least been involved in some debate regarding this matter. - We all know airlines do not want to publicly discuss aviation risks as it might lose them customers but surely this debacle has done more damage to the industry. -Furthermore the EU & governments in Europe have been caught off-guard & i fear in the aftermath (I speculate) some might exaggerate the risk so as to justify the blanket ban.

  • Airlines will likely to downplay the safety argument because of commercial reasons. A few test flights are not sufficient to establish any evidence and to measure the risk.

  • It is shocking to see airlines openly rate safety as NOT their first priority. The single reason for this is deregulation and full business activity / competition in the air.

    I am not a communist or marxist (quite the contrary), but flying masses of people in the air, if it is to be done safely, is just not an activity appropriate for profit making, i.e. for business.

    Only national (or national caliber) carriers, in an internationally regulated regime, could afford to place safety over financial considerations (i.e. politically and socially afford being just viable, financially).
    Another issue which brightly displays today's aviation business ethics, is RyanAir's proposals to allow standing passengers in flights, or reduce the number of aircraft toilets and establish toilet fees for passengers.

    The concept of making money in the air as a key aim of those concerned, is inherently contradictory to safety.

  • Passenger safety is the key. Any ash concentration no matter how low this may be can cause malfunctions in on board equipment. One fragment in a pitot head can can cause havoc.

  • On board detection of volcanic ash e.g. by VDL4 linked satellite data (similar to WX-link) or novel instrumentation (like WX-radar) needs to be developed to solve the problem.

  • More effort need be put into determining the hazard level and areas...

    Low level flight for part of the flight should be utilized where avoid know hi level ash...

    It is 2010. Surely a better job can be done including the co-operation of many countries who are not affected making all airports available ( including military ) and setting up alternate routes to temporarily assist travel getting closer to home.

    IATA should temporarily abandon all those international rules of who can fly where and when.
    Surely a little co-operation would have gone a long way ?

  • The survey on airplanes and volcanic ash is poorly written. What have the governments agreed to and the reasons behind the agreement on the volcanic ash restrictions. How many people in this survey have read the restrictions. Thus the first question should be whether or not people have read and understood the restrictions as it relates to volcanic ash. Likewise do people understand the 'makeup' of volcanic ash and all the possible problems that it could cause for an airplane flying near or thru such ash? Then, have they read and understood the applicable rules. Finally, why was the choice 'No opinion' omitted from the last question (Is it safe to fly in or near volcanic ash?) I don't know the answer to that yet readers were asked to select yes or no.

    I am not an expert on volcanic ash nor am I an expert on airplanes and the mechanics behind airplanes. However, the survey wants readers to provide a (potential) uneducated opinion about flying in or near volcanic ash. I'd look for alternative ways, albeit inconvenient and potentially costly, to return home.

    I disagree with that the traveling public is in the best position to determine if flying in an area with volcanic ash is safe. The traveling public is self serving whereby most only want to get to their destination. I don't think that the majority of the traveling public understand the dangers of volcanic ash, engines, airplanes and the sciences that come into play. Will this litigious society be willing to forgo lawsuits against the airline industry should the airline industry lobbyists be able convince governments to allow them to fly and then an airplane crashes as a result of the volcanic ash? I don't think society will.

  • I would hope that more testing would be done to determine what a safe level of ash is. Right now it seems like we are at two extreme's. One is a level of no ash at all and the other is a rather hazy determination of 'some' ask is ok. Too many lives are at stake.

  • European Community urgently need to meet with IATA and Civil Aviation experts, Environment,crisis management and Climate experts to apply pertinent solutions.

  • Safety first, I would not trust the airline to make the decision

  • I think the profit driven airlines will push the envelope as far and as fast as they can until multiple collisions occur. they can do this with impunity because of the international limitations on liability for death of passengers. there needs to be scientific studies performed in a controlled environment (a lab). why has no one put a jet engine in a lab and bubbled volcanic ash in until the engine chokes up and stops ?

  • Hard to say because obviously there are different opinions on this...
    The airlines are losing millions of dollars by being shut down--that is bad but there is never a reason to run an unnecessary risk to human life either;
    Both yay and nay sides have ulterior motives so to speak but human life should win each and every time;
    I guess the issues dilemma would be lessened if we had some very contemporary tests done by a neutral agency;

  • I am in S.A and want to get home to England but I will never take a chance if it is not safe!!!!!!! How can Louis Walsh put peoples lives at risk to save himself money!! Better safe than sorry I say!

  • The Commercial airlines that flew 'Test the Air' flights reported no damage but, at least two military jets flew around the same time and did report damage and it was there for all to see. The commercial operators' motives are heavily influenced by financial pressure and would probably be prepared to accept a low level risk as reasonable. Thank heavens the Air Traffic Services have executives bold enough to uphold the safety of passengers as paramount to the industry.


  • There are many factors involved ,mostly money!! I think air companies must think better about this matter.

  • Is scary because I was at Vegas last week and thought it would affect our flight was grounded.

  • It's to risky.

  • Very difficult situation. However we dare not leave the decision to airlines who have a financial incentive to risk flying into ash.

  • I'm still outside of country UK, I have to wait and wait

  • Strictly no flights to be performed. Flights to be resumed when the volcanic ash is completely eliminated.
    Also, all aircraft grounded within affected airports must carry out an engine detailed inspection and the fuselage for any signs of "hot" spots damages.

  • Possible over-reaction and also no real tests conducted early on before the blanket ban was imposed. It cannot go on like this and I believe the airlines should be free to make their own decisions

  • I think the situation is terrible and I understand why passengers are frustrated! However, I would prefer to lose money on extra nights in a hotel than lose my life! Therefore, I think it is preferable to err on the side of caution and continue the flight restrictions. I am not currently affected by the flight restrictions, but have a flight to Switzerland booked for the end of May and I realize that I may be affected if the volcano continues erupting. However, I would rather postpone my flight than fly in unsafe conditions.

  • The best probable answer to safety of flight in or near volcanic ash is not yes or no. Like many other safety issues, it's a maybe. It all depends on the density of the ash cloud. I have knowledge of cases where planes flew through ash clouds, having their cockpits windshield and sliding windows sanded opaque. After a post-flight engine borescope, both engines were confirmed unaffected and remained installed for continuous service. Consequently, it takes a higher density to affect the engines (ref BA 9 or similar events). The objective of the authorities should be to establish a methodology to locate the higher density clouds that would be a safety threat to the aircraft. The airlines will not blindly fly into clouds of ash as the post flight inspections will disrupt operations not to mention the extremely high cost in case of engine damage.

  • To be safe is better than to be sorry.

  • People don't think, it's all about money. Sure!!! I'm sorry for the people who are stranded in another country, I understand they want to go home. I would!

    Again it's all about money..millions. What about safety???

  • No one can predict with certainty what is safe but commercial losses should not change authority's cautious approach.

  • I think that any steps that can be taken to prevent anyone from crashing into the ocean should be taken. Please no repeats of the horrific Air France crash last year.

  • Hi Dr Todd. I've been " sandpapered" in an Alitalia 747 landing in Khartoum (Sudan), On fire on the way to Genoa . In free fall in a tropical storm in Rio de Janeiro . So many hairy landings at Kai Tak Hong Kong . Thus far I have avoided the volcanic ash threat , but I guess there is still time.

  • $$$ is what's putting the pressure on authorities. One crash or near miss will be unacceptable.


  1. There is dust in the air that all aircraft fly through. A jet engine does not have air filters. The reason your car has an air filter is to trap the dust in the air. Jet engines can deal with higher concentrations of dust (volcanic or otherwise) than an internal combustion engines - they are designed to do so. Jet engines can even deal with bird strikes and survive. By the time the ash has travelled a few miles from an active volcano it is heavily diluted by air and poses relatively little risk to the engines (although they will require more frequent inspection and overhauls). Flying through a visible ash cloud is dangerous, but by the time the cloud is no longer visible, the risks are not very high.

  2. We are all arm chair critics.
    Power corrupts,shares values bring pressure, copycat action following" the brave, all are there.

    My vote goes for the Pilot in Commnand's decision go/no go , and the Mnaganement that backs her/him which ever way it goes, BECAUSE SAFETY FOR THE PASSENGERS ALWAYS COMES FIRST.

  3. we know that money come first for the airlines companny why cannot we do a floatting airports in the atlantic since there is so much flight

    a lot of passengers complaines about service in delaying in the airport what happen to the contengincy plan to house those passengers

    we should learn from such case a lot so what we learn we need a feed back from this case