1 December 2010

The international aviation regulatory community should have been better prepared for the volcanic ash cloud, MPs heard. Continuing their inquiry into scientific advice and evidence in emergencies, the Commons Science and Technology Committee heard from:

  • Andy Burnham, Shadow Education Secretary (former Health Secretary during swine flu pandemic); and
  • Lord Adonis (former Transport Secretary during volcanic ash crisis).

 The Chair asked Lord Adonis why Britain had been so unprepared with regards to volcanic ash in the atmosphere.  Lord Adonis responded stating that this question should be addressed to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Concentration of flight paths made ash concentration a greater risk than elsewhere in the world, which had not seemingly been taken into account, he said.

 It had been said that volcanic eruptions did not occur in northern Europe, and so were not considered, but whether this should have happened had to be carefully considered, he argued.

This was clearly not the job of Ministers but of the regulatory agency to ensure safe flying rules were in place for this hazard, as they were for many other hazards such as bird strike or fog, he insisted. It had been important during the crisis not to consider these historical failings but to find a Europe-wide regulatory regime that would permit flying as quickly as possible, he stressed.

 It was noted that there had been a gulf between British Airways (BA) and the CAA as to the right response to the ash cloud.  Lord Adonis asserted that once flight paths were closed there had been constant and productive communication between all sides. It was reasonable that the airlines state in public their belief that flying would be safe, he argued, and that the scientific evaluation considered all the evidence coming in to narrow the no-fly zone.

 Labour MP, Pamela Nash, asked if airline operators should have more of a role in deciding when it was safe to fly. They already played a key role, constantly interacting with the regulators to determine the scale of a range of risks to flight, Lord Adonis said. The problem in this case was that no contingency planning had been undertaken, meaning there was no prepared response, he underlined.

 It was not a fair criticism that the Department had not been sufficiently involved, he insisted, as it had swung into action from the very moment the problem arose. Almost all North European countries opened their airspace on the same day, he stressed, showing the level of cooperation that had been rapidly organised.

 Sourced from Dehavilland: www1.Dehavilland.co.uk