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EU Conducts Test Flights To Assess Impact of Volcanic Ash On Aircraft

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the did-we-forget-to-sacrifice-somebody dept.

Earth 410

chrb writes "As we discussed on Friday, the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland has led to flights being canceled across the EU. With travel chaos ensuing and the airlines losing an estimated $200 million per day, EU authorities are coming under increasing pressure to re-open the airways. Test flights conducted on Saturday were apparently successful, with no problems encountered during flight. Following the test flights, Peter Hartman, CEO of KLM, said, 'We hope to receive permission as soon as possible after that to start up our operation and to transport our passengers to their destinations.' Evidence possibly opposing this move comes from the Finnish Defense Forces, which released photos and a statement after F-18 Hornets flew through the ash cloud, saying, 'Based on the pictures, it was discovered that even short flights in ash dust may cause significant damage to an airplane's engine.' Is it safe to resume flights so soon, or should planes remain grounded until the ash cloud has dissipated?"

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410 comments

Safe to Fly! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887198)

Tell that to the passengers of British Airways Flight 9!

Of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887206)

Of course there is pressure, I believe that those companies value their money far more that the safety of their passengers.

Goodness, Who To Believe... (5, Insightful)

Bottles (1672000) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887210)

So we can choose between the findings of a massive corporation intent on re-establishing its cashflow as soon as possible or a military entity performing a post-mortem on its equipment which sustained damage just prior to flight restrictions.

You decide!

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (5, Informative)

flyneye (84093) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887318)

Ash is abrasive. Any idiot who has washed their hands with LAVA soap can attest to that.
Q:So then, what happens when you put abrasives into parts manufactured to close tolerances?
A: Tolerances are widened.
Q: What happens when tolerances are widened on machinery that spins at high RPM?
A: Centers are lost and jitter occurs speeding disappearing tolerances and adding heavy vibration.
Q: What will that heavy vibration do Cap'n fly?
A: Titaniums can shatter, Waspalloy and Hastalloy parts will tear away from Titaniums and Aluminums, H60 coated bearings will fly as though fired from a gun.
Q: What are you really saying, fly?
A: Assume the crash position, put your chin on your taint and kiss your @ss goodbye!

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887420)

Actually, the largest danger is the cooling intake thingies in the engine the clogged up and engine overheats and either destroys itself or shuts down.

But yes, it is stupid to fly because damage caused by this can show up months or years down the road. It's really dumb. Considering that each jet engine is about $10,000,000. And jet engines are not *designed* to fly through pulverized rock!

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887580)

Ash is abrasive. Any idiot who has washed their hands with LAVA soap can attest to that.

Thanks for the info! :D

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (2, Informative)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887740)

Ash is abrasive. Any idiot who has washed their hands with LAVA soap can attest to that.

LAVA soap isn't made of ash, dumbass, it's made of pumice. Pumice is a product of volcanoes, but not one that goes floating in the air (it does go hurtling through the air, but that's different). It is also thousands of times more coarse than ash - ash is finer than the finest sands you can find. The individual grains are extremely hard and jagged, and thus very abrasive, but they will also move largely with the air - i.e. as the jet engine creates a flow through it, most of the ash is going to pass right on by and only a very small amount will actually be abrading the engine parts.

That said, I'm no aeronautical engineer, so I wouldn't have a clue about how much these engines can handle. I'd be inclined to think they'll just have to replace various engine parts a lot sooner than they ordinarily would need to though, given that several flights have already been safely made. The commercial flights are also going to be flying through as little ash as possible, unlike the Finnish pilots who flew right through the heart of it. That most certainly will make a big difference in the amount of wear caused by the ash cloud.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (-1, Troll)

JamesP (688957) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887394)

So we can choose between the findings of a massive corporation risking its own equipment to call BS on a computer model

  or a military entity performing a post-mortem on its equipment which sustained damage just prior to flight restrictions.

You decide!

Fixed

And here's the gotcha, they never disclosed how close to the volcano the finn planes were.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (1)

Bottles (1672000) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887412)

*In* it. Those Finnish pilots are badass.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887486)

*In* it. Those Finnish pilots are badass.

That explains a lot...

One thing is flying straight into the plume, another, in a very large area where 'allegedly' the ash density is enough to damage a plane significantly.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887520)

The engine used by F-18 accelerates air to some 7 km/s speed. It doesn't really matter how little of that ash is in the air intake - it WILL cause damage. That, plus the temperature in more compact engines is higher. It takes ca. 1095 degres (C) for the ash to start softening and melting into the parts.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887480)

Read the link! They were in Finland which is not very near Iceland. You will need to check a map for that.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887618)

    Come on, this is Slashdot. Most people who haven't ever left their native area are oblivious to where other places are. You could ask most Americans where the border between Quebec and British Columbia is, and they'd point to some arbitrary place. I'd be willing to guess at least half may point to somewhere in Canada. Some may see "British" and point to somewhere in or near the UK.

    The same applies to plenty of people and places.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (1)

oji-sama (1151023) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887674)

Well. Now's a good chance to check Google Maps. Or some other map-thing.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (4, Informative)

oji-sama (1151023) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887528)

And here's the gotcha, they never disclosed how close to the volcano the finn planes were.

Umm. They disclosed that they were doing training missions in northern parts of Finland while the airspace was still open to all. I'm not sure what makes this a gotcha.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887582)

They disclosed that they were doing training missions in northern parts of Finland

You're right, the canada.com link says that, but not the flightglobal one for example.

Also they may have been 'further north' hence, closer to Iceland or even that canada.com is assuming they were there.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (4, Informative)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887692)

Iceland is west of Finland.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (4, Informative)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887668)

And here's the gotcha, they never disclosed how close to the volcano the finn planes were.

Do you think it is safe to say that they were about as far away as Finland is to the volcano? Say 2500km. Or do you think they said, "hey there's a volcano erupting 2500km away that we'd have to cross three sovereign nations airspace's with in our military jets (Finland doesn't belong to NATO or any common EU defense alliance), let's go fly our planes over there." Personally I would tend to believe that they flew over their own country and decided to do a 'post-mortem' on the engines when they found out how bad the ash cloud was.

It seems to me that at least some airlines don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887456)

want to take any risks at all. I'm quite perplexed by this since I assume that the ash is similar everywhere in Europe and in Finland, Finnair have - instead of testing on their own - declined the EU's request to fly test flights and referred to the fact that commercial airliners lack testing equipment (which I interpret as an excuse to avoid further maintenance costs later). Before doing so, they took samples for further analysis from all their aircraft that had flown through the ash cloud before being grounded since the Finnish air force reported that a couple of their F-18s had been "badly damaged" by it. So I do wonder why some airlines decide to test on their own.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (4, Funny)

Swampash (1131503) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887476)

What's that, Chief Brody? You want to close the BEACHES?

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887516)

The problem is that nobody's measured the actual concentration of the ash cloud yet. The satellite images show SO2, not the solid particles. No airline would willingly or even just carelessly fly their planes through ash: The repair costs for a whole fleet would be astronomical. The question they're trying to get answered is this: Is the simulation, which is the current source of information, accurate or is there airspace which is usable without damage to the machines and risk to the crews and passengers? For example, if the ash is only at high altitudes, they could fly lower than usual, to at least get the stranded passengers to their destinations.

The pressure to find a solution other than waiting it out is growing because the weather is relatively stable and if the volcano keeps spewing ash, then the situation isn't going to change for at least a couple more days. They're looking for safe airspace, not for a way straight through the cloud.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (3, Interesting)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887522)

...a massive corporation intent on re-establishing its cashflow ...

I don't know if you know this, but big corporations don't get to be big corporations by spending more money in repairs than they receive in receipts. In other words, if the big corporations are clamoring to get back in the skies in the middle of a volcano after verifying the safety of the passengers, you know damage to equipment is going to be less than the receipts they'll get from flights.

In other words, as long as the safety of the passengers is maintained, who the hell cares if they fly? If you're concerned about flying through an ash cloud and don't want to "risk it" (even though there is likely little or no actual risk to you), then don't buy the damn ticket and don't get on the damn plane.

Isn't it just amazing how that works?

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887658)

I've bought the ticket, long before the eruption. If BA says it be safe, how likely do you think it is that they will let me wait it out (at their expense) until I think it is safe? (That is the NATS says it is safe)?

Not likely.

Re:Goodness, Who To Believe... (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887564)

Just call it earth-week and be done with it.

Got to make more of a difference when a few people turning of their lights for an hour.

Atleast the oil will last like an hour longer! ..

I am skeptical about the results... (4, Interesting)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887214)

...of the tests because the conditions these tests will have to deal with vary from amount of dust, to concentration,composition (chemically) and type of equipment to be used.

To make matters even more interesting, the impact of this dust on an aircraft engine also depends on what the load is on the particular engine, not to mention type and condition.

To me, I see the results as those that will be of no consequence.

Re:I am skeptical about the results... (2, Interesting)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887298)

The issues here also have to do with melting, heat of crystallization, size of openings where the fuel injectors are concerned, durability of the turbofans etc etc. I can easily imagine the characteristics of one engine making it suffer much less harm than another of even slightly different design. What I can't imagine is figuring out which ones would fall into which category based on the information we have.

 

Re:I am skeptical about the results... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887518)

Two planes enter. One plane leaves!

Re:I am skeptical about the results... (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887628)

no no they both leave.

Two planes enter flying, One plane leaves still flying.

Later in the interview.... (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887450)

Peter Hartman, CEO of KLM ended the interview with the thoughtful remark that, "As a further comfort to our esteemed customers, all seats are now equipped with their own personal parachute. Preliminary research has suggested that those lucky passengers seated direly by the emergency exit increase their odds of successful 'emergency sky-dive' by a factor of 1000 over those in normal economy class, provided that they time their exit and decent to the appropriate altitude, or are just able to hold their breath for over five minutes. I'm also proud to say that all emergency exit seats are also premium economy seats, which will net our esteemed flying blue members 20% extra flying miles. We take our customers loyalty very seriously."

Re:Later in the interview.... (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887676)

    I could just see something like that happening. A plane going down with no power and no controls, passengers going to the nearest exits. People getting stomped on trying to make their way to the exits. Some people jumping out the front doors, just to get hit by the wing or engines. Oh and of course those people who panic at the last second and can't step off the ledge. How many people can they get from a plane from under 10k feet before it hits the ground? I think most peoples chances are better with staying buckled in and praying. (Chance of prayer saving your ass from 10k feet, 0%)

Starting to get ridiculous... (5, Interesting)

cronostitan (573676) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887222)

I think that 'Better safe than sorry' is a good way to handle this... however straight after closing the airspace there should have been real tests going on how much ash there actually is. The warnings given by the Volcanic observation center are just based on simulations and there is no middle way between 'ash' and 'no ash' currently.
I totally understand that the airlines are starting to complain - even more when they have to _prove_ themselves that there is no problem with low concentrations.
There hasn't been any weatherballoons or similar testing by the governments right after closing the airspace.

Re:Starting to get ridiculous... (2, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887266)

How do you do those 'real tests' without running expensive aircraft through the target airspace? Although clearly we have had some experience with volcanic ash, from what I've read there is a real dearth of information. I imagine (although it really hasn't shown up in the news) that various smart and inventive persons are trying to run through ideas to sort this out.

Remember, the real issue is what is going on between 10000 and 30000 feet. Hard to walk there and sample some air. Modified radiosonde balloons? Giant kites? Let's work this out guys.

Re:Starting to get ridiculous... (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887346)

You send disposable aircraft with a prop (not a turbine engine) that can take samples at (relatively) low speeds.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MQ-1_Predator [wikipedia.org]

Re:Starting to get ridiculous... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887406)

You send disposable aircraft with a prop (not a turbine engine) that can take samples at (relatively) low speeds.

That may be valid for low values of 'disposable' but I don't think the DOD wants to send their fleet out there. Those puppies are fairly expensive. They also are single engine so if anything happens, the platform goes splat (hopefully not into something important).

Right now it seems we're relying on satellite information (note to idiots who don't think space flight is important -- think again). But we really need some way to get a large numbers of samples quickly, safely and repeatably. I'm going to go with a shop vac attached to a radiosonde balloon.

Re:Starting to get ridiculous... (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887708)

Instead of a radiosonde balloon, what about a dirigible? Low speed, with the ability to navigate and take samples from many more altitudes/locations.

Re:Starting to get ridiculous... (5, Informative)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887304)

There is satellite imagery however. Both NASA [nasa.gov] and ESA traces the ash cloud based on satellite data, ESA even compiled an informative animation [esa.int] .

The thing is, this is difficult to test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887370)

Currently, there are some 15k planes a day grounded because of this. Hundreds or thousands of routes, different altitudes, plane types, geographical locations, weather conditions, loads for the planes.... You can't really prove that it is safe by making a dozen flights. Hell, you can't even prove that those routes are safe because the ash cloud isn't static. It is really shitty situation to be in, I know, but the only kind of proof you can get to any direction is if a plane crashes... So we need to trust the models. And current models seem to be that there is still ash, the ash can be dangerous and there is some evidence supporting that. Would it really be responsible action if the planes were allowed to fly as much as the airlines feel they are willing to risk?

You could say "Let them fly and just let the people decide whether to take the risk or not!" but real world doesn't work that way. If the planes are allowed to fly, there are people who are practically forced to fly (Business trips to attend to, etc. when the boss says "Okay, go on the trip. The company deems the risk to be acceptable.") even if they wouldn't otherwise want to risk it.

Re:Starting to get ridiculous... (1)

rve (4436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887378)

Sigh... cancelling my first vacation in over 2 years. Travel insurance doesn't cover it, because they exclude natural disasters. Ah well, better luck in 2 years.

Re:Starting to get ridiculous... (1)

c1ay (703047) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887502)

I totally understand that the airlines are starting to complain - even more when they have to _prove_ themselves that there is no problem with low concentrations.

I understand too and don't care. I don't care if they're losing $1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000... a day or more, it just doesn't matter. Volcanic ash is highly abrasive, has high concentrations of glass rich particles and will cause significant wear on machinery parts, like jet engines You cannot make one test flight through the stuff and safe all is safe for normal airline operations. Fly through it a hundred times and see what happens. Greed is never a reason to find a way around safety.

Keep them on the ground (4, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887230)

Yes, it sucks. To the tune of hundreds of millions of $$ per day. But this stuff can and will kill an engine. I wouldn't want to depend on a lucky restart.

Of course, if this goes on much longer, as it has in the past, we will run into serious problems.

Re:Keep them on the ground (5, Funny)

Again (1351325) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887276)

Yes, it sucks. To the tune of hundreds of millions of $$ per day. But this stuff can and will kill an engine. I wouldn't want to depend on a lucky restart.

You're wrong, I watched 2012 and ash doesn't harm the engine only it only makes it harder for the pilot to see.

Re:Keep them on the ground (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887460)

Ash is a goddamn robot!

Re:Keep them on the ground (1)

flyneye (84093) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887400)

Hazard of the industry. I imagine hot dog vendors lose a lot to rainy days, but then they plan for days like that.
  Consider getting a webcam to attend that meeting abroad. This is what the internet is about. E-commerce, E-mail and Quakelive.
Any problems you hear about are just whining about lost profits in order to get subsidies. No money need by lost. If you have to go visit Aunt Gertrude, take a boat, bus or motorcycle.

Norwegian helicopter ambulance video (4, Informative)

Knutsi (959723) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887238)

This links leads to a page with a video of an ambulance helicopter that was coated in a fine layer of ash in Norway today. It flew during a small windows of opportunity where the air cleared to pick up a patient in Sweden. The link is in Norwegian, but the video is, obviously, visual.

The interesting part is at ~00:30 where he shows of the ash (requires Flash): http://www.dagbladet.no/2010/04/18/nyheter/innenriks/aske/vulkan/flyforbud/11335687/ [dagbladet.no]

Makes me think that a large passenger jet flying long routes and sucking in a whole load of air on the trip might be at risk of engine failure as they say.

Re:Norwegian helicopter ambulance video (0, Offtopic)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887340)

That's a big hurken video there. You guys must have .... high speed Internet. Sigh. *9&(*7re NO CARRIER

A lesson to be learned: Greed kills (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887242)

I am waiting for the impatient to risk their lives to prove to the rest of us why better safe than sorry is much safer than being dead.

Take a boat.

Radioactive Man (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887250)

General: Radioactive Man, we need you to fly into that volcano and tell us how much damage your aircraft experiences.
Radioactive Man: Who, me?
General: Yes, you Radioactive Man. You're our only hope.
Radioactive Man: Isn't Buzz Aldrin available? I hear he's retired and looking for things to do.
General: We don't have time, Radioactive Man. Here, put on these goggles. They'll protect you from the toxic cloud spewing from the volcano's eruption.
[Radioactive Man looks at the flimsy goggles apprehensively]
Radioactive Man: OooooKaaaay
General: Great! Make us proud Radioactive Man!
[Radioactive Man, sporting his safety goggles, flies directly into the toxic plume of the volcano]
Radioactive Man: Argh! The goggles, they do nothing !
General: Hmph, I would have thought his aircraft would have lasted longer than 12 seconds.

How long will it last? (4, Interesting)

ivoras (455934) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887256)

The question here is - how long will the eruption and the ash cloud last? Judging from historical records, it's not uncommon for eruptions to last decades. If - then what? New routes? Limit cross-atlantic flights endpoints to southern Spain or something?

Re:How long will it last? (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887358)

Consider this is one weenie little volcano (albeit poorly placed). No wonder dinosaurs didn't invent air travel.

Re:How long will it last? (4, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887436)

So, you never heard of Pterodactyl Airlines, did you? ;)

Re:How long will it last? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887382)

If - then what? New routes? Limit cross-atlantic flights endpoints to southern Spain or something?

Yes. The alternative is pretty grim.

Re:How long will it last? (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887438)

Are you saying I should have sold my stock in Transatlantic Fly Boys (TFB:NOEXCH) ??

Re:How long will it last? (2, Interesting)

mattcsn (1592281) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887470)

Invest in cruise ship stocks? :) At least intra-continental travelers have the option of rail, as crowded as that may be at the moment.

Re:How long will it last? (4, Interesting)

mayberry42 (1604077) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887604)

The question here is - how long will the eruption and the ash cloud last? Judging from historical records, it's not uncommon for eruptions to last decades. If - then what? New routes? Limit cross-atlantic flights endpoints to southern Spain or something?

According to this article [sciencedaily.com] , it may last for another month, and possibly a year or longer. It will be interesting, if somewhat uneasy, to see how people will react to this (boats to the US? fly above/below the ash clouds?). Clearly this cannot go on for long, given the damage that it is doing in terms of lost revenue for businesses, mail not being delivered (so i hear) and thousands of stranded customers.

Re:How long will it last? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887632)

Limit cross-atlantic

I think i speak for all of Europe when i say
"GET the fuck in no more Americans wooooo!!! :D"

All aircraft grounded - Except in Sweden (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887262)

Several countries have grounded low level jets, prop planes, piston powered helicopters, gliders, paragliders and balloons.

There is a slight chance that ONE of those might be affected at high altitude. All the rest are just collateral damage. Note that Sweden have only prohibited turbines from flying, so glider pilots from Norway and Denmark are crossing the border to get to fly again - and lo and behold homeopathic quantities of vulcanic ash does nothing!

Prop planes have started from dry grass fields since the infancy of flying, and still do so today. There is far more sand and dust there, than what we have seen from this volcano. This is pure "think of the children"-madness.

Re:All aircraft grounded - Except in Sweden (4, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887302)

There is a slight chance that ONE of those might be affected at high altitude.

OK, Sparky. You go first.

Re:All aircraft grounded - Except in Sweden (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887350)

There is a slight chance that ONE of those might be affected at high altitude.

OK, Sparky. You go first.

That's what Mr. Hartman, the CEO of KLM just did. [timesonline.co.uk]

Re:All aircraft grounded - Except in Sweden (2, Informative)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887366)

Yes and those were at least back then mostly powered by ICE, which would have had air filters (even if just a bit of cloth) and don't depend on fragile, fine turbine blades cranking at 10K rpm; but instead had relatively robust pistons of steel and iron. Dust will harm and ICE but it causes premature ware one pistons, rings, liners, values, guides, and any thing else being lubes from a common oil sump where dust might get into the oil (also filtered during operation). A Jet is a little or turbo prop is a little different beast then the that old barn storming Jenny.

Re:All aircraft grounded - Except in Sweden (1, Informative)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887646)

I don't know if you know this, but prop planes are still powered by IC engines, that's why they have a giant prop instead of turbine blades. As such, they still take off from dusty areas just fine. The trouble is the quantity of fine ash - there is a shitload of it during an eruption, and this is a very long eruption.

The problem with ash is that it is extremely fine yet very hard. Air filters good enough to block it clog very quickly, after which point your IC engine seizes up. Also, those "relatively robust pistons of steal and iron" aren't nearly as robust as you seem to think they are. Have you ever heard of sabotaging an engine by pouring a little sand or iron filings in the oil? Just a few grains in the combustion chamber can grab the sides of the pistons and seize them in a heartbeat. Volcanic ash acts exactly the same way, it's fine grains of rock - it's very bad news for an IC engine if it gets inside. We get volcanic eruptions near where I live, and for this very reason you can't go driving around once the ash starts falling to the ground. You won't get more than a few miles at best before your engine stalls from lack of air - or if you had a really crappy filter, you may have hosed all your pistons (very not cool).

Jet engines should actually fair a lot better than an ICE, because the air is flowing through continuously. The ash isn't going to be pounding hard on the turbine blades, it's very fine and will move with the air, but it is extremely abrasive. The wear you'll see is in pitting of the turbine blades and exposed metal of areas like the burn chamber. There isn't anything that ash will cause to stop instantly like in an ICE, though you will see a hell of a lot more wear on metal parts (an ICE will seize long before there is significant wear on the system).

Re:All aircraft grounded - Except in Sweden (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887680)

Yes and those were at least back then mostly powered by ICE

They were powered by high-speed trains? [wikipedia.org] :-)

One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (5, Interesting)

Thagg (9904) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887264)

I wonder if something that makes this volcano different than all other volcanoes is that it's erupting at a time when almost all translatlantic flying is done on two-engine planes. To get long-range over-water certification (ETOPS), the manufacturers and maintenance organizations go to great lengths to ensure that there is no common threat to the two engines. The engines are serviced separately by independent crews, fueled separately, and so on. Flying into an ash cloud, though, even if the threat is small, it is certainly a common threat to both engines at the same time.

I was looking for flights to Europe recently, and couldn't find a single 747 or A340 -- it was all 767, 777, or A330. I know 747s fly those routes, but they are a small minority now.

Re:One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887312)

ETOPS = Engines Turn or Passengers Swim.

Re:One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887328)

Four engines vs. two engines doesn't really matter. Some of the most dramatic incidents of airplanes ingesting volcanic ash are 747s. Invariably, every single engine shuts down after several minutes of sucking up ash and melting it into glass. All four engines have to be restarted to recover, once the airplane descends out of the cloud and the glass has time to cool off.

Re:One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887386)

Note about the above: I didn't mean to write all four engines have to be restarted to recover (just two is fine for the 747, I think), but normally all four engines do restart in these incidents. I probably meant to say something like, "The crew will attempt to restart all four engines during recovery."

Re:One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (4, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887352)

I wonder if something that makes this volcano different than all other volcanoes is that it's erupting at a time when almost all translatlantic flying is done on two-engine planes.

Probably not. Ash has caused all engines to go out on a 747. As you say, the threat is common to all engines, whether 2,3, or 4.

The airlines have it right. All the talk has been about flights being canceled for a few days or weeks, but as far as I can tell there's no real reason the eruption couldn't continue for months, and plenty of precedent for eruptions which have. And talk about the wind shifting seems pretty much wishful thinking as well; the upper air westerlies aren't going to stop blowing eastward, nor are they likely to lose all their southward components. So a very conservative approach (no flying until the ash has dissipated) could result in most of northern Europe being a no-fly zone for months. It's probably worth the risk to find out more precisely where the conditions really are too dangerous.

Re:One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (-1, Flamebait)

drsquare (530038) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887422)

So what if there's a no-fly zone for months? People fly too much anyway.

Re:One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (1)

Lunoria (1496339) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887634)

Ahh. But shouldn't people make their own decisions? If they want to risk flying in an ash cloud, they should be allowed. Me, I'll just plan around the ash cloud.

Re:One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887702)

So let them fly a test plane with the the company officers and shareholders with all their families and relatives and friends then instea dof some poor joe smoe who wont be informed of the risk and merely wants to get home.

Re:One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (3, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887390)

If ash from volcanoes can take out four engines, there is no way in hell I want to get near that ash cloud/plume in a two engine transatlantic aircraft.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Airways_Flight_9 [wikipedia.org]

Re:One new thing - transatlantic on 2 engines (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887454)

Well, consider this: Icelandic Air flies 757s between North America and Europe, with KEF as their base.

Callous disregard of safety (5, Insightful)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887282)

So based on a few low altitude flights they want to reestablish about 20k flights / day? It's excellent that 5-10 testflights could manage in low altitude, however if only 0.1% flights drops out of the skies, that is still 20 flights downed per day. You don't establish safety based on limited tests.

Sure it's possible that the computer models establishing the extent of the dust cloud are conservative towards safety, however isn't that what you would expect no matter how much it costs the airlines? The Finnish incident clearly shows it's not safe, at this point I'm not even sure I'd trust the airlines to disclose whether they suffered damage in their test flights.

Re:Callous disregard of safety (1)

DMCBOSTON (714393) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887510)

They will resume flights. Than at some point, grit being what it is, hell your damn CAR has an air cleaner, an engine will fail prematurely. Then it's one engine landing or lights out. They might still fly, but I bet they won't be too full...

Ash is non-uniform (5, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887306)

The ash allegedly contains shards of glass, and I can see how this would cause serious problems for turbines... but I think it's obvious that just like any other phenomena of weather, the ash will be non-uniform. It makes perfect sense that one test would have completely different results from another. Thus, broadly-based testing would be necessary to derive any useful result...

Re:Ash is non-uniform (2, Informative)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887530)

Indeed. In fact the height the ash plume reached has changed from Wednesday to Saturday from 8 miles down to 3:

In Iceland, the volcano continued to erupt, but volcanologists said was it less explosive than at the beginning of the eruption on Wednesday, which blasted glassy abrasive ash, destructive to jet engines, eight miles into the sky. The plume was now rising to a height of just three miles, and the volcanologists said this would deposit ash only in Iceland and in the surrounding waters. It was not high enough to travel thousands of miles across Britain and the rest of Europe.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/16/volcanic-ash-air-travel-europe [guardian.co.uk]

How much do we know about this "ash cloud"? (4, Interesting)

SwedishChef (69313) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887332)

I don't know enough about the extent of the ash cloud to make a decision about this. In fact, I suspect no one knows much about it and that's the crux of the dilemma. I do know that when Mt. St. Helens erupted the area where I live was seriously impacted by the ash and many vehicles were severely damaged. Of course, this area was only 150 miles east of the volcano and the ash cloud was dense enough to block out the sun. The ash cloud over Europe is likely to be much less dense. I have been an airplane and glider pilot since 1970 and I, personally, would not want to risk flying until I understood more about the risk.

What it's like to fly a 747 through an ash cloud (4, Interesting)

jrivar59 (146428) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887388)

British Airways Flight 9 [wikipedia.org] .

They're flying again (1)

jameson (54982) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887404)

According to a report in a major German newspaper (FAZ [www.faz.de] ), there will be launches from at least Berlin and Frankfurt and some other German airports, but not in all directions.

Anonymous Pilot (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887408)

As an ATPL pilot, any idiot who flies into the dense components of the ash cloud will get absolutely no sympathy from me when they suffer from multiple system failures. Important to note though, the article doesn't mention the density of the ash cloud they flew through. Also, I highly doubt they'll readjust the maintenance cycles of the parts to cater for the increase in wear and tear, so even if the aircraft does not have a problem immediately I'd place bets that parts will fail prematurely in the future.

Simple Solution (1)

medcalf (68293) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887414)

Tell the airlines and the passengers that they fly at their own risk, and that the government doesn't recommend that they fly due to the hazard. If people want to fly expensive airplanes through this, and risk their loss without insurance (which I believe would actually prevent this) or government help in paying for the loss, fine. If passengers want to risk their lives this way, fine.

Re:Simple Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887492)

The passengers may fly at there own risk but I sure as hell don't live under a flight path at my own risk. A plane dropping on your head would make for a bad day real quick.

Re:Simple Solution (2)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887532)

...and also risk the life of innocent bystanders on the ground? You know, if you throw up a few tonnes of metal and plastic, it'll come down eventually and potentially kill people when it lands on their heads.

Re:Simple Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887644)

Please remind them not to crash on top of my house.

I live under the transatlantic flight path. (5, Insightful)

GuyFawkes (729054) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887424)

and it is interesting how the skies are clear of contrails, and also the lack of periodic flights from the local airport, the landing path for which is *directly* overhead at an altitude of a few hundred metres. This includes turboprop aircraft like the Dash jobbies being grounded.

Of course everyone is talking about stranded passengers, nobody is talking about stranded air mail and stranded cargo.

It is interesting to me just how dependent we (and we in Europe are a lot less dependent on flights than USAians) have become on the jet aircraft, and how useless people have become, they just sit in the airports expecting some one else to get them to their destination...

ferries, channel tunnel, trains, automobiles, nope, just won't do... I have driven from London to Athens in less time than many of these people have been sat in airports wringing their hands... I also suspect that it may be CHEAPER to hire a car and drive back home, than to attempt to live in an airport for a week.

interestingly, lots of travel insurance companies are simply shrugging their shoulders when people try to make claims over this, sorry, act of god, not covered by insurance.

BTW, back in the day, we used to hear the sonic boom from Concorde, I have heard some talk that while a 747 cruises at 39,000 feet, Concorde's ceiling of 60,000 feet meant that it could have flown OVER these dust clouds...

Re:I live under the transatlantic flight path. (3, Interesting)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887534)

ferries, channel tunnel, trains, automobiles, nope, just won't do... I have driven from London to Athens in less time than many of these people have been sat in airports wringing their hands... I also suspect that it may be CHEAPER to hire a car and drive back home, than to attempt to live in an airport for a week.

I know a few people that are stuck across the Atlantic from their homes, that really has to stink. A bunch of them had to go on business trips (separate locations) and are now stuck.

I guess there's always the ship / cruise option but I imagine those tend to be a tad more expensive than a company would want to pay for. Especially when they can go to another work-site and use their network to do some of their tasks.

I've taken the train around, even though co-workers prefer to fly. They claim "well the flight's only an hour..." Yeh, but between security and delays you're only really saving an hour over the train. Heck, splurge on 1st class and it's about the same price and quite a pleasant experience to ride the rails for a few hours.

Re:I live under the transatlantic flight path. (3, Insightful)

sohp (22984) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887578)

I have heard some talk that while a 747 cruises at 39,000 feet, Concorde's ceiling of 60,000 feet meant that it could have flown OVER these dust clouds...

They still have to take off and land; as far ask I know, that would take the aircraft through the ash cloud.

Even if Virgin Galactic has suborbital transatlantic flights, they'd still need a way to get to up there.

Re:I live under the transatlantic flight path. (2, Informative)

ari_j (90255) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887608)

The helplessness of the average human is a global phenomenon. Of course, airlines don't help much. I once had the first flight in my itinerary canceled, and while I was waiting in line with the other 100 passengers from that flight to take care of it, I also called the airline's customer service line. I offered to rent a car at my own expense and drive it to the hub airport, but they wouldn't accept that since it was more than 300 miles away. And, of the 3 airports they served within 300 miles, there were no open seats in the next few days. So even if you are willing to help yourself, the airlines won't accept it.

The possibility that transatlantic flights between the USA and Europe will be grounded for months leads to the possible reinstatement of making the trip by luxury steamer. Are any of the Titanic's sister ships still afloat?

Re:I live under the transatlantic flight path. (1)

zoney_ie (740061) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887616)

As far as I know, much of the dust around Europe is below the cruising altitude of ordinary jets. The problem is however getting from the airports to that height (not to mention short-haul that wouldn't go so high in any case).

Re:I live under the transatlantic flight path. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887622)

Most rentals have already been taken, you can't get a hold of a car in northern europe.

Re:I live under the transatlantic flight path. (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887642)


ferries, channel tunnel, trains, automobiles, nope, just won't do... I have driven from London to Athens in less time than many of these people have been sat in airports wringing their hands... I also suspect that it may be CHEAPER to hire a car and drive back home, than to attempt to live in an airport for a week.

Sure, if you knew ahead of time it would be a whole week before air travel resumed again. The first reports I heard were that travel was only suspended until friday, so I'm sure a lot of people hoped it'd just be a couple days. Nobody could possibly know how long the volcano would erupt. Now that it's gone one for more than a couple days the other travel options become a lot more attractive.

Re:I live under the transatlantic flight path. (2, Informative)

Ma8thew (861741) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887660)

ferries, channel tunnel, trains, automobiles, nope, just won't do... I have driven from London to Athens in less time than many of these people have been sat in airports wringing their hands... I also suspect that it may be CHEAPER to hire a car and drive back home, than to attempt to live in an airport for a week.

I guess you haven't been reading the stores about the Eurostar and the ferry companies having their busiest days ever. Or the thousand euro taxi rides many are resorting through. Have you considered that people would like to get a train or ferry but they're all booked up?

Re:I live under the transatlantic flight path. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887686)

how useless people have become, they just sit in the airports expecting some one else to get them to their destination... ferries, channel tunnel, trains, automobiles, nope, just won't do... I have driven from London to Athens in less time than many of these people have been sat in airports wringing their hands... I also suspect that it may be CHEAPER to hire a car and drive back home, than to attempt to live in an airport for a week.

Like they aren't trying other modes of transportation. There's just not enough capacity to replace 20000 flights per day. Rail is overbooked, car rentals are out of cars, the trains through the channel tunnel are sold out, the ferries are cramped.

Concorde's ceiling of 60,000 feet meant that it could have flown OVER these dust clouds...

Unfortunately it doesn't teleport from 0 to 60000 feet. With the ash cloud covering almost all of Europe, the Concorde would be grounded too.

Re:I live under the transatlantic flight path. (1)

Splab (574204) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887722)

1. No, "staying at the airport" is not more expensive for the travellers, even in force majure sitations like this, aviation companies are required to pay for the customers hotel and give enough money/coupons for travellers to eat.

2. People are scrambling for alternative transportation - only those going across the pond are in a really big mess, everyone else are being put on trains, busses and even taxis to get to their destinations (aviation companies are required to give alternative transportation and in this case it makes sense to put travellers on anything that moves in the right direction).

Big mass hysteria (1, Troll)

viking80 (697716) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887462)

The main plume of the ash blows right across the Shetland islands pretty close to Iceland. The maps with artificial color show it to be black here, any yet, I see nothing. Blue skies, and starry nights. I have see ash from volcanoes where the sun turns red, so I know the scale, and here it is no ash. I have spoken with friends around Europe, and nobody has seen any ash plume. (except Iceland of course)

If anyone have seen any of this ash plume, please respond.

Re:Big mass hysteria (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887560)

I have not seen a plume but the ash has fallen on surfaces in NE Derbyshire, UK. Our car has a light coating of grey dust that appeared Friday night. And when I was outside Friday night I could taste the grit in the air.

A compromise would be to... (1)

Mojo66 (1131579) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887506)

...fly below the ash cloud, at around 10.000ft. Any comments on the safety of flying at this altitude?

Re:A compromise would be to... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887600)

Some issues I can think of:
- that airspace is currently reserved for non-professional use. Lowering commercial aircraft will need re-establishing these rules
- the current infrastructure (radar, radio, traffic control software) is all meant for high-altitude traffic, changing the altitude may not be that easy
- environmental legislation will almost certainly prohibit flying at these altitudes, due to noise restriction issues (suddenly everyone would "live under an airport")
- the fuel efficiency at that level is a lot worse, leading to economic issues and possible range issues .. can't see it happening for the moment.

Come one come all! A new AGE is upon us! (5, Funny)

arcite (661011) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887538)

No, no, this is not the end times you have been reading about. This is the DAWN of a new age of travel! A GLORIOUS adventure on the high seas! See the world ANEW! Why measure your transatlantic travel in hours when it can be measured in DAYs or even WEEKS? Relive a bygone era when it was the JOURNEY that mattered most, not the destination. After a lazy brunch, take a mid-morning stroll on the upper deck in your best pinstripes, while your lady swings her parasol without a care in the world. Dine on the finest cuts of meat, drink the finest wines! Try your luck at the baccarat tables! End your evening with a stout cigar, staring blissfully toward the star filled night sky. It's the future!

Re:Come one come all! A new AGE is upon us! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31887610)

ICEBURG! RIGHT AHEAD!

Hooray for the EU! (2, Insightful)

BadDoggie (145310) | more than 4 years ago | (#31887684)

Sending multiple 50M aircraft into ash clouds to prove what we already knew: that even a brief encounter with volcanic ash will fuck your turbines up but good. And your surfaces. And your Plexiglass. And your ventilation system. And and and...
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