All it takes is just one volcano…
If you’re on the ground here in Bath, you might pass the day without ever realising that something unprecedented is unfolding in the skies and airports across Northern Europe. It’s splashed out on the headlines of every major newspaper on the web – google news results for “Iceland ash cloud” and a whole host of articles will come up on your screen.
For the first time in aviation history, commercial airspace has been shut down in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Denmark, with the Netherlands and northern France to follow suit in the next few hours. In light of the ongoing eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and the ensuing ash cloud, no one in Europe wants to take any chances.
In 1982 a British Airways Jumbo Jet en route to Australia entered a volcanic ash cloud as it passed over the Indonesian island of Java. All four of its engines lost power and the plane went into a rapid descent. In what can only be described as a masterpiece of British understatement, the captain then made the following announcement to the passengers:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”
At the last minute, as the cabin crew prepared for a ditch into the Indian Ocean, one engine roared back to life. Soon another engine restarted and the plane began to regain some altitude. Eventually all 4 came back on the system and the flight managed to turn around, landing safely in Jakarta.
Fast forward to the present day and the hazardous effects of volcanic ash on aircraft are both well documented and well understood. It comes as no surprise then to have flights suspended and airspace shut down all over Northern Europe – it is a tough but sensible choice, notwithstanding the money lost and the masses of angry travelers at airports.
The fact is that in spite of all our advances in human technology, we are still at the mercy of our restless planet.