Economic Eruptions?

I am writing this blog entry from the Chitorok restaurant in Kiev’s Borispol airport when I should actually be sitting in a meeting in the office back in London.

Why am I here? Volcanic ash, apparently…

Not for the first time in recent months, events in Iceland are having a ripple effect across Europe and beyond, allowing the country to punch above its weight.
Since last night, winds from the north-west have been carrying volcanic ash from Iceland towards Britain closing many of our airports – including, unfortunately enough for me, airports in London where I was due to arrive early this morning.

Three months ago, if someone had told me that they were pr

edicting that flights across Europe would be delayed due to volcanic ash from a dormant volcano in Iceland I would have laughed at them. The very suggestion would have been ludicrous; like something from a low-budget disaster film.

However, today,  not only is it a a reality, but experts warn that this phenomenon could be with us for some time to come as the last time this volcano erupted, it continued spewing magma and ash for over a year…

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano
The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupting in April 2010

Incidents like these serve to remind us of the power of nature and our relative weakness before it; despite all of our technology and our dependence on flying, there is nothing that we can do to stop or even to avoid the impact of this ash – planes simply have to stay on the ground.

Or do they?

Some observers, such as Sir Richard Branson, believe that the authorities are over-reacting and that they should not be in a position to close the airspace because of the ash, and insist that the airlines should make the choice for themselves and their passengers.

Sir Richard went as far as to describe the decision to close Manchester airspace as “once again beyond a joke”.

Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet in flight

Why is he so angry? At one level, I’m sure that I’m sure that like many good businesspeople he has a natural aversion to Government meddling, but the more serious issue here for the airlines is that of economics.

Every hour of closed airspace means hundreds of grounded flights – not only lost business for the airlines, but potentially huge compensation bills from the affected passengers.

If the worst-case scenario came to fruition and the volcanic ash became a feature of our weather system for another year, the regular closure of airspace across Europe would devastate an already weakened airline industry that is coming out of the worst recession in living memory.

These economic eruptions may be more than the industry can take.

This situation does call into question our reliance on air travel as a primary mode of transport; perhaps this disruption will give us pause for thought, allowing us to consider the alternatives which are often more cost-effective and less damaging to the environment.

I must declare and interest here; I fly more than most and rack-up about 15 return flights a year due to my various business and charitable activities – it is nothing short of hypocrisy for me to be suggesting that people should fly less, but we really must!

This volcanic activity may force us to – although the economic cost may be very, very high indeed.

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