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Was Flight Ban Over Ash an Overreaction?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the in-his-unbiased-opinion-of-course dept.

Transportation 673

HaymarketRiot writes "Richard Branson has claimed that the flight ban, due to the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, was an overreaction on the part of the authorities. Britain's government has even called for the airlines to be compensated. This does look like a perfect excuse for already greedy airlines to try and get more money ... any experts care to comment on the effect of volcanic ash on planes?"

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From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (5, Informative)

seebs (15766) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971238)

Basically, the jet's internals are hot enough to melt rock back into glass... So after a couple of passes through ash clouds, you have a thin layer of glass covering all the internal turbine blades. Which completely destroys the engine, and is extremely hard to repair without completely replacing the blades.

So, basically, what I've been told is that, yes, flying a jet through a volcanic ash cloud is a good recipe for completely destroying the engines, such that they need to be rebuilt, within two or three passes through the ash. It sounds plausible, and I've not yet heard anyone who actually does aircraft maintenance or anything like that suggest that it's harmless.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (5, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971282)

There's some uncertainty over [bloomberg.com] the level of ash that poses a significant threat, though. What's known is that zero ash is fine, and a lot of ash causes significant damage, but not too much seems to be known about the concentration/response curve beyond that.

Of course, it's also pretty clear that Branson is angling for a handout here, not really deeply interested in science or public policy. He has a pretty big self-interest in convincing people that the cause of the shutdown was government overreaction, in which case the government should compensate the airlines; rather than having people believe that the shutdown was a necessary reaction to the volcanic eruption.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (1)

rve (4436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971478)

While I know next to nothing about planes or volcanoes, I do know that volcanoes erupt along the pacific rim all the time, without the airspace of an entire continent having to be closed for a week. Apparently the authorities in the US just issue an advisory, and airlines just fly around the worst affected parts. Branson isn't the only airline director who went to the media saying that the flight ban went on far longer than was necessary, and that they fly through some levels of volcanic ash or desert dust every day.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (3, Interesting)

Skratchez (1304839) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971480)

Branson needs to live up to his manly man self-image and fly through highly concentrated areas of the ash clouds himself (alone). I would contribute money for a cheap funeral for his ashes, based on the payout of a death pool of course. Look at what the Finnish Air Force found out about the sustainability and safety of flying through this stuff. Not safe practices.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971496)

A parliamentary select committee judged that Richard Branson 's business skills were too weak to own a high street bank. Since the government refused to sell Northern Rock at a firesale price to him he's decloaked as a closet Tory and been trying to stir up trouble ever since. This is the same Richard "Dick" Branson who seems not to be aware that the government commissioned an emergency report and only relaxed its restrictions after aviation industry experts judged ash levels were safe.

Oh, yes. Before I forget behind the mask Richard Branson is the same guy who talks big about corporate values but turned a blind eye to Phorm because he wanted to keep the annual fee for hiring his Virgin trademark out to Virgin Media. Yes, the same invasive spyco supporting troughing bastard in private who sells himself as the "peoples billionare" in public. The same Dick Branson who asset stripped Westwood Studios and sold the empty shell when he was done with it.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971500)

The uncertainty in what level of ash is tolerable needs to be reduced. Saying the limit is "zero" is not really useful or helpful. There will always be some very small, but non-zero level of ash or something essentially indistinguishable from ash in the air. As we look at this more, I'm sure that more sensitive techniques for measuring and quantifying ash concentration will be developed. So some safe level needs to be established. One miligram per cubic meter may be too much. Is one microgram per cubic meter too much? One nanogram per cubic meter is probably safe. But as long as the regulatory standard is zero, all these values mean that all flights are grounded.

If this sort of mass-grounding of air traffic happens a few more times, I expect that the airlines (at least those that avoid bankruptcy) will demand more capable aircraft and engines that will be able to operate safely at some increased cocentration of volcanic ash.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (4, Informative)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971534)

He is also going to be screwed by his engine repair facilities. Most airlines operate a 'power by the hour' arrangement for their engines with an Engine Overhaul facility (Maintenance Repair Organization (MRO) where they pay a fixed amount per flying hour. This comes with many conditions including "thou shalt not fly through volcanic ash".

Come time to send the engine in for overhaul (after about operating 30,000hrs) if there is sufficient evidence of turbine erosion that can be attributed to volcanic ash then the airline will be stuck with the US$7M per engine invoice. My college (who deals with engine health monitoring and MRO's) reckons a medium sized airlines may be in the hole for US$2B should they're engines be exposed to ash.

Branson is being a doosh on this one, and should thank his lucky stars the regulators kept him out of the sky.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971624)

Of course, it's also pretty clear that Branson is angling for a handout here, not really deeply interested in science or public policy. He has a pretty big self-interest in convincing people that the cause of the shutdown was government overreaction, in which case the government should compensate the airlines; rather than having people believe that the shutdown was a necessary reaction to the volcanic eruption.

So it's a lot like the reasons why fluoride, which is administered as a general medication in uncontrolled doses, is considered good for you and your teeth?

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (5, Informative)

BagOBones (574735) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971314)

Exactly, I am not sure why past tragedies have not been mentioned by ANY of the officials or NEWS networks..

I remember seeing something about this on Discovery or History channel years ago and a quick search pointed me to British Airways Flight 9 on Wikipedia, all four engines FAILED!

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

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (1)

Mr. DOS (1276020) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971352)

Indeed. I stumbled on that article (and a couple others like it; I can't remember them off the top of my head) on Wikipedia the other day by fluke. Mind you, given the media's love of sensationalism, I guess focusing on peoples' being inconvenienced by this is viewed to be more worthwhile (read: profitable) than pointing out the sense behind the closure of the airways.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (2, Informative)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971404)

I remember seeing something about this on Discovery or History channel years ago and a quick search pointed me to British Airways Flight 9 on Wikipedia, all four engines FAILED!

BA Flight 9 flew through a concentrated ash cloud, and no-one is saying that aircraft should do so. But there's a level between that concentration and zero where the ash causes no significant impact on the engines, at which point it's safe to fly; more than that, there are higher levels where the engines will require increased maintenance but the airlines may be willing to pay that cost in order to keep the planes flying.

The idea that a tiny level of ash will cause an airliner to fall out of the sky is just silly, and while I'd agree that closing down European airspace for a brief period was justified, keeping it closed for days was certainly an overreaction by burrowcrats who were too scared to take the risk of letting planes fly.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (5, Funny)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971432)

closing down European airspace for a brief period was justified, keeping it closed for days was certainly an overreaction by burrowcrats who were too scared to take the risk of letting planes fly

Yeah. If only they'd come out of their burrows into the sunlight once in a while, maybe they wouldn't be so scared.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971454)

The trouble is knowing which areas are concentrated ash cloud and which are just "normal" ash cloud.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (2, Interesting)

The Wooden Badger (540258) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971486)

And to go along with your post, the British Airways flight was about 100 miles from the volcano, and all 4 engines started up again after they were out of the ash. One of them failed again, but they were able to make it safely to an airport on their own power rather than strictly gliding.

I thought the travel blackout was a little too knee jerk. I don't know how high the ash got in the atmosphere, but I'm thinking that there would be a more or less safe zone either above or below the main concentration of ash. Then there is the bigger safe zone away from the main corridor the ash is traveling. They might have needed to make adjustments to flight plans, but I think that they could have had a much smaller no-fly zone. Of course I am not even an aerospace janitor, so what do I know?

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (5, Interesting)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971572)

And to go along with your post, the British Airways flight was about 100 miles from the volcano, and all 4 engines started up again after they were out of the ash. One of them failed again, but they were able to make it safely to an airport on their own power rather than strictly gliding.

After one of the longest glides in history in a regular aircraft, and landing instruments-only because the windshield was rendered almost opaque from the ash, and even then with half the instruments out of commission.

Given the history of aircraft encounters with volcanic ash clouds - near disaster every time, averted only by heroic efforts by the pilots - the total shutdown was the only appropriate short-term response.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (1, Informative)

quacking duck (607555) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971614)

Though not an international news channel like CNN or BBC, Canada's CTV news network not only mentioned BA 9 the day the flight ban started, but showed the dramatic clips from the Discovery Channel's Mayday episode about it.

Of course, it helped that Discovery Canada is owned by CTV, and Mayday is a Canadian production.

What's going on now is the second-guessing of experts and efforts, being played up by the media to the clueless public, just like we saw with the Y2K bug.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (1)

LoudMusic (199347) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971320)

But wouldn't the fact that it's a jet engine lend one to believe the liquid glass would get blown out the back end rather than sticking to the inner bits?

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971362)

No. I don't know the name for it, but it's pretty easy to see substances go through a phase change when you put them on something that's grossly different.

Try throwing some ice on the hot eye of your oven for example. Or jet some steam into your fridge.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (2, Insightful)

rozthepimp (638319) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971392)

Yes, those jet engines are just big hollow tubes with absolutely no moving parts! No blades, compressors, widgets - it's like magic! And even if there was anything in this jet engine, all parts are undoubtedly coated with Teflon! As an added design bonus, nothing can pit them, especially small bits of glass being sucked in/expelled out at speeds that would remove all traces of flesh from a humanoid! Sorry. could not resist.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971530)

Melted ash is not liquid glass like water is. It sticks differently to the metal and ceramic engine components, there's both liquid and solid pieces (it's not evenly-heated pure glass), clumps form inside the engine, the melt mixes with cooler bypass air.. ick. The engines are designed to deal with a fair amount of water, less hail, and less goose. If engine ash levels have been studied, nobody has reported that, and any such researchers could have gotten a lot of TV airtime recently.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971452)

Volcanic ash can make a plane crash... but Europe completely failed to look at countries where they deal with this on a regular basis. Planes could have flown here (i'm from the netherlands) without problem.

Pilots usually just avoid ashclouds when they see them. If you can't see it, it's not high enough concentration to damage an airplane.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971550)

Pilots usually just avoid ashclouds when they see them. If you can't see it, it's not high enough concentration to damage an airplane.

There's some evidence to the contrary. This [popsci.com] is admittedly an anecdotal story but it appears to come from someone who knows what he's talking about.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (5, Informative)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971494)

Agree, and the argument is more fundamental than that.

Federal Aviation Regulation 25.1309 relates to airworthiness standards for aircraft, and the fundamental aspect of this regulation is system safety. Excerpt below, with emphasis:

(a)The equipment, systems, and installations whose functioning is required by this subchapter, must be designed to ensure that they perform their intended functions under any foreseeable operating condition.
(b) The airplane systems and associated components, considered separately and in relation to other systems, must be designed so that--
(1) The occurrence of any failure condition which would prevent the continued safe flight and landing of the airplane is extremely improbable, and
[(2) The occurrence of any other failure condition which would reduce the capability of the airplane or the ability of the crew to cope with adverse operating conditions is improbable.

Firstly, Aircraft are not designed to fly through clouds of corrosive silica ash.

Secondly, 'Extremely improbable' is defined in the Advisory Circular (AC 25.1309) to that regulation, which requires chance of catastrophic loss to be less than "extremely improbable" or "1x10^-9" chance of total loss. Techniques such as Fault Tree Analysis are used to allocate reliability of systems to sub-systems, so the entire aircraft can be built from components with realistic reliabilities. However, the volcanic ash offers a 'common mode' failure across all engines including gas turbine Auxiliary Power Units.

The regulators have an obligation to ensure the chance of total loss of an aircraft due to flying through an ash cloud remains 'extremely improbable', i.e 1x10^-9.

Also, if the airlines lost an aircraft because they were allowed to go flying, and were being sued by the families of the victims, they'd be screaming blue murder at the regulators saying they didn't do enough to protect the airlines.

Re:From what I've heard, it really is that bad... (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971616)

Not only that, but in the early 80's, I believe a 747 lost power to all 4 engines while flying through an ash from a volcano. That was the reason why there is a ban on flights when there is ash in the air.

Any experts care to comment? HAHAHA (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971240)

You do know what site you're on, right? It's not Planedot.wing.

Re:Any experts care to comment? HAHAHA (2, Insightful)

seebs (15766) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971270)

The chances are that at least one slashdot poster is qualified to comment. Lots and lots of users, topic is a field that many people are employed in, and many of them engineers or techies of some variety.

Re:Any experts care to comment? HAHAHA (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971554)

you don't need an expert, just someone with 1/2 a fucking brain.

ash turns into volcanic glass inside the engine, wearing it to failure. the ash can be so fine you can't see it, and you also can't detect it on normal radar. by the time you realise your in it might be too late.

considering the fact planes have gone down before because of this exact problem it makes it a high risk. If i was a government regulator, my response would be if sir branson was prepared to be charged with manslaughter if anyone died flying through this ash, go for it.

i'm betting he wouldn't accept.

They couldn't have got it right.... (5, Insightful)

johngaunt (414543) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971246)

If one had flown and crashed, everyone would have blamed the governments involved for not stopping all the traffic. While I am no fan of the government, this is one where they could not win.
Grimjack

Re:They couldn't have got it right.... (3, Insightful)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971304)

I'm not nor have I been stranded in an airport as a result of this (nor do I know anyone affected) - so I admit I have no appreciation for how much this is costing travelers and how impatient they are getting.

If a plane had crashed this is what would have happened, and since volcano is still active, I hope this doesn't happen:

1) Public total outrage at the airline(s) that had been flying.
2) Even more blame for the airliner that had flow the flight that crashed. The public will blame said airlines' policy and procedures, and probably, the pilot at fault.
3) They will blame the government.
4) The media will surely get involved in the fiasco they'll tear said airline to pieces.
5) Massive lawsuits.
5) And, eventually, the airline will probably have to declare bankruptcy since it won't get enough passengers or will be sued to smithereens.

But all is fair here, if an airliner crashes - regardless of if the ash is the cause (a plane can crash for other reasons), there will be massive litigation, (more unfortunately) people will die, families will be upset, and I argue a few airliners might take too much heat and won't be able to stay in business.

Re:They couldn't have got it right.... (1, Redundant)

tuxgeek (872962) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971436)

Back in the 80's, a KLM flight flew into the ash plume of Mt Redoubt near Anchorage Alaska. It fell from 25,000 to 12,000 feet before the pilots were able to restart the engines and make a safe landing in Anchorage. They were extremely lucky. Volcanic ash is an abrasive and nearly destroyed the engines on that plane.

Better to error on the side of caution than to have to scrape up the remains of a plane crash with all lives lost.

Richard Branson believes he should be compensated for losses caused by an act of god? What a pretentious dick!

Re:They couldn't have got it right.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971484)

But all of europe wasn't covered in a concentrated ash plume. There is a difference between flying directly over an active volcano, and flying through a plume after it has been able to dissipate over hundreds of miles.

Re:They couldn't have got it right.... (2, Informative)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971450)

Better losing billions with no flights and than one crashing flight. How much is a life worth? That can't be expressed in €.

Re:They couldn't have got it right.... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971604)

I don't give a SHIT how much you or any other liberal statist fuckwad thinks a "life is worth". The fact is, we lost BILLIONS OF DOLLARS out of our economy and investments. This will DIRECTLY affect the quality of life for tens of thousands of people across the world, and all you god damned statists can think about are ridiculous "what if" scenarios that have proven to be unsubstantiated.

*THIS* folks is why I am a libertarian. No one should have the power to force a company to stop doing business for ANY REASON.

Fuck, I am so angry about this I could scream.

Re:They couldn't have got it right.... (1)

supernova87a (532540) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971608)

well, that's taking it a bit far. I agree they were right to stop the flights, but there definitely is a point at which you consider how much $ you are willing to spend to save a life. We do this every day in insurance decisions, safety decisions, medical decisions, etc. Absolutely we measure lives in dollars.

If it hadn't been millions, but many billions of $ per day, you bet people would be thinking differently about how safe they wanted to be or not.

greed? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971252)

If you want to talk about greed how about you talk about the millions of people around the world who's greed keeps them from working to their potential and instead living off of welfare and socialist programs funded by the theft of money from those who actually have worked hard their whole lives.

The more money an airline, or any publicly traded company makes, the more money everyone who owns stock makes. That includes teachers, police, and firemen who's retirement will be larger thanks to the stock their retirement plans own in these companies.

Airline, not government, wants compensation (4, Informative)

Dan East (318230) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971256)

The summary is wrong. It is the founder of Virgin Atlantic that wants compensation, not the government. Has anyone ever heard of a government wanting to dish out compensation?

Re:Airline, not government, wants compensation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971276)

The summary is wrong. It is the founder of Virgin Atlantic that wants compensation, not the government. Has anyone ever heard of a government wanting to dish out compensation?

This is correct.

Re:Airline, not government, wants compensation (4, Insightful)

tmosley (996283) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971358)

Only when it's to banks.

Or car companies.

Or anyone else who puts money in politician's pockets.

What? (2, Interesting)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971266)

We already have evidence of at least one plane nearly crashing due to volcanic ashes. Is this guy saying that we should take the chance? Would he say that to the families of those who could die because of it?

Re:What? (0, Troll)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971316)

We already have evidence of at least one plane nearly crashing due to volcanic ashes. Is this guy saying that we should take the chance? Would he say that to the families of those who could die because of it?

Exactly. It does make you wonder what costs are being cut at his budget airline that might also be a danger to passengers.

Re:What? (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971464)

Good idea! They should require that the CEOs are on board the test flights.

The Cold Equations (3, Insightful)

kurokame (1764228) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971268)

If you're not sure, and you don't have time to do the tests necessary to make sure, then it's usually best to err on the side of caution. It's very plausible that ash particles and other ejecta could interfere with the normal and safe operation of an aircraft. And you cannot simply pull over and make a pit stop if your aircraft breaks down unexpectedly while you're 10km above sea level - the closest possibility is "pray to god that physics doesn't say you're about to become very, very dead."

This is a barefaced cash grab, nothing more. What were they going to do if it turned out to have a very dangerous effect on the plane anyway, bring the passengers back as zombies and comp them a free flight?

Re:The Cold Equations (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971368)

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Re:The Cold Equations (1)

wronskyMan (676763) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971502)

Agree about the dangers of ash and erring on the side of safety - however, airplanes "falling out of the sky" is a common misconception. Most multiengine airplanes can land safely with 1 engine running, and even if all fail, pilots practice engine out approaches in basic pilot training - at high altitude, a jetliner can glide up to 100 miles if the optimum lift/drag airspeed (different for different airplane models and one of the important emergency numbers for pilots to know) is maintained. This is one reason that most airline accidents occur during takeoff/landing - stalls, etc (while more likely due to slower speeds) have less room to recover. Unfortunately, the presence of the cloud over the oceanic portions of the airline routes will cause problems even with the glide range, since an expert ditching in the North Sea still results in a lot of cold wet passengers.

Boeing says it's not a good idea. (5, Informative)

Moofie (22272) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971272)

Don't know if you put any stock in what an aircraft manufacturer might say on the subject, but...

http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/aero_09/volcanic_story.html [boeing.com]

Summary: If you find yourself flying into an ash cloud, turn around immediately.

So, yeah, maybe Branson wants a check, but flying into ash clouds is a very bad idea. And they don't show up on weather radar.

NASA tested this a while back (5, Interesting)

VanHalensing (926781) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971278)

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-04/why-cant-planes-fly-through-volcanic-ash-because-nasa-tried-once [popsci.com] It basically starts to eat the plane's internals. So, while it may or may not experience problems immediately, it almost certainly will in the longer run, grounding those planes while they have parts replaced, and costing a fortune in new parts, because most of the shown damage in the pictures is not safely fixable.

Statistics. (2, Insightful)

drolli (522659) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971280)

Planes are one of the safest means of transportation. This is reached by systematically evaluating all risks. The exact effect of vulcanic ash on the various types of engines seem not to be known. Normally engine failures are not correlated on a signle plane. However there have been examples of planes loosing several (or all) engines at onces when flying trough volcanic ash. This means that this (unknown) risk does not enter in the usual power law for several redundant systems. Moreover its known that in influences sensors of the plane. A loss of sensors caused the crash of the Air France flight some time ago. If several engines fail at once of the sensors fail in a fatal way, people may die.

The logics for this must be: "Do we for sure that a plane can operate as designed under these conditions?" instead of "do we know fore sure its dangerous?"

Re:Statistics. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971370)

However there have been examples of planes loosing several (or all) engines at onces when flying trough volcanic ash.

Aren't there regulations on how tight the engines have to be so that they don't come loose during flight?

Or (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971284)

If airspace was kept open despite ash risk, and just one fatal crash occurred afterwards, the headline would be

"Was Lack of Flight Ban Over Ash an Underreaction?"

The fact that no fatalities occurred due to the flight ban means not that the flight ban was responsible for the safety, but that flights (and therefore pilots/aircraft manufacturers/etc) were prevented from crashing in the first place. If the number of crashes is 0 then that means that things went normally (i.e. what would have happened without the volcano) but if the number of crashes is greater than 0 then something "obviously went wrong". So obviously you want the number of crashes to be less than or equal to 0, and the only way to ensure that during the volcano's activity is to ban all flights.

A lot of people only care because it was their flight which got delayed. No one thinks about society at large...

[People get confused since Ash -> Crash, Other Things -> Crash but Not-Crash -> Not-Other-Things and Not-Crash -> Not-Ash. Basic logic!]

Re:Or (1)

JustOK (667959) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971466)

So obviously you want the number of crashes to be less than or equal to 0

How much less than 0?

Re:Or (1)

kanweg (771128) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971584)

We want planes to lift off from the runway. Duh.

Bert

Re:Or (1)

capnkr (1153623) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971520)

So obviously you want the number of crashes to be less than or equal to 0 {snip}

Imagine if suddenly one day, *more planes landed than had taken off* that morning...

:D :D :D

On-topic: People seem to have forgotten that flying is an inherently risky thing to do. Safeguards, safety, and the odds have gotten better, but when you fling your solid self up into a gas, you do so **knowing that you will eventually come down**... - most hopefully in a nice, controlled manner.
We've done many, many things to ensure the controlled come-down, but even so - they don't all work, not all of the time.

"So it goes..."

Engines stalling enough for you? (3, Informative)

Tony (765) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971286)

I dunno. KLM Flight 867 [wikipedia.org] lost all four engines after flying into Mt. Redoubt's ash plume, back in 1989. I was in Fairbanks at the time, and many people I know where stranded, trying to get home for Christmas vacation.

Ash is not good for jet engines. Period.

Re:Engines stalling enough for you? (5, Funny)

Tony (765) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971376)

I was in Fairbanks at the time, and many people I know where stranded, trying to get home for Christmas vacation.

That's "were," you fucking moron.

Jesus, I hate people who can't spell.

Re:Engines stalling enough for you? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971490)

Damn who the hell pissed in your cornflakes today?

Re:Engines stalling enough for you? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971504)

I don't think Jesus cares.

Re:Engines stalling enough for you? (5, Informative)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971598)

Hey moderators--look a little more closely and you'll notice that the so-called flamer and the person he flamed were the same people!

From the few examples... (1, Redundant)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971290)

this could not have ended well. 1982 & 1989 747 - all 4 engines shut down. Last week Finnish F-18 - major engine damage. This stuff does kill an engine.

But from the few risky flights last week...no crash. Just like a drunk driver. "Hey..I didn't crash!" (this time)
If the airlines had been allowed to fly, and there was just one instance of an engine shutting down, there would have been lawsuits all over.

Is there another source? (2, Interesting)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971294)

I just did a couple of quick Googles and found that every time there was a mention of the British government accepting that there was an overreaction was a direct quote from Branson. I don't think that he could be considered an impartial source on this quote. I certainly find it difficult to believe that the government is asking for compensation.

And don't the airlines have insurance against this sort of natural disaster?

Flawed Computer Models (2, Informative)

rlp (11898) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971298)

"Flawed computer models may have exaggerated the effects of an Icelandic volcano eruption that has grounded tens of thousands of flights, stranded hundreds of thousands of passengers and cost businesses hundreds of millions of euros.

The computer models that guided decisions to impose a no-fly zone across most of Europe in recent days are based on incomplete science and limited data, according to European officials. As a result, they may have over-stated the risks to the public, needlessly grounding flights and damaging businesses."

From the Financial Times (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0821cc00-4bb5-11df-9db6-00144feab49a.html?ftcamp=rss)

Re:Flawed Computer Models (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971548)

This sounds like the incomplete data that led to the Challenger disaster. NASA officials had incomplete data about low temperature launches. Engineers wanted to play it safe because they suspected that low temperatures could cause problems but managers decided that the risk was over-stated and decided to launch anyway. Well, at least they got data about low temperature launches.

What Branson is conveniently ignoring is that every mistake costs millions of dollars when he has to replace the engines, windows, and other parts of the plane that's destroyed by the ash. And when the plane crashes because it lost power or the pilots couldn't fly because the instruments started giving incorrect readings or the cockpit windows became opaque, the whole company could be lost. Pan Am flight 103, TWA flight 800, and ValuJet flight 592 all ended up being the downfall of their respective airlines. Perhaps Branson would like to add a Virgin flight to the list?

dom

Stupid whiners (2, Insightful)

JRHelgeson (576325) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971300)

Had they permitted a plane to fly, and it crashed, the outcry of permitting a plane to fly when we knew about the risks posed by volcanic ash...

But this wasn't even volcanic ash, it was volcanic glass, the effect would be sandblasting the engine while in operation. The safe option was to keep planes on the ground.

Fly or stay grounded - either way, whiners will whine.

What if they weren't grounded... (1)

DallasMay (1330587) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971306)

And one or more planes went down due to the ash cloud? It just wasn't a risk worth taking. Branson is being foolish.

Re:What if they weren't grounded... (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971634)

I don't know why I always get 1's for scores. I Really try to be thoughtful most of the time.

Simply put: thoughtful isn't what gets you modded up on Slashdot. You need to provoke a little bit. Make people think, make them laugh or provide some sort of information that no one else on the thread has provided.

Be patient, too. Sometimes I got through weeks where it seems like I couldn't buy an up-mod even for what I think is an excellent post.

This is sad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971308)

No, securing the public like they did in this situation was NOT an overreatcion. One plane crash out of them all would be one too many, deal with your profit losses and welcome to the world an individual citizen is in daily.

NOT an overreaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971310)

Following the famous BA 9 incident [wikipedia.org] in 1982, a Singapore Airlines 747 passing through the same area nineteen days later was forced to shut down three of its four engines. To me, successfully flying a handful of test flights (with empty planes) through the ash cloud, as some of the airlines did this time around, is hardly sufficient to establish that the safety risks of resuming normal operations are acceptably low.

/CF

Finland tried it. (5, Interesting)

NEOGEOman (155470) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971312)

Finland's air force flew into the ash cloud [ilmavoimat.fi] , and released some photos of the damage. It ain't pretty.

My vote's on cash grab.

But that was with potato flour added. (3, Funny)

Shag (3737) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971440)

The Google translation clearly shows that Koneiden tultua laskuun koneet tarkastettiin ja moottoreiden imuaukoissa havaittiin perunajauhomaista vulkaanista tuhkapölyä means Machines after the decline in machinery and engines are inspected inlet was observed from potato flour, volcanic ash and dust. They should try it again without the potato flour. ;)

Re:Finland tried it. (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971544)

My vote's on cash grab.

Well go figure when the options are:
a) Leave the planes on the ground and lose lots of money
b) Fly and get expensive damage that'll ground your planes
c) Blame the government and get a bailout

He doesn't want to send his planes up there, he just wants money. There's no doubt that many airlines took an extreme financial hit, here in Norway the entire airspace was closed for days and they were losing millions of dollars each day. And that's only counting the direct costs, not counting all the bad experiences people have had not getting home or not being able to go which might make them not travel by plane or not travel at all in the future. This kind of thing just isn't in their margins, the odd plane or airport having issues sure but not the whole fleet sitting on the ground twiddling thumbs.

Re:Finland tried it. (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971596)

Nice to see some pictures.

My attitude is getting to be more like, if the airlines didn't have insurance for this sort of thing, then the most they should get is a loan with interest with a repayment deadline and a stipulation to buy insurance for any kind of issue so it doesn't come up again.

As a pilot... (4, Informative)

WarJolt (990309) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971326)

I know almost all regulations are written in blood. If the wind decides to shift and a plane goes down that's unacceptable.

If anyone had any doubts.. (1, Redundant)

log0n (18224) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971330)

Money really is more important than human life.

there is a video demonstration (2, Informative)

bombastinator (812664) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971334)

There's a british kid's show called "bang goes the theory" (it's awesome)that had a great little demo of what happens. Basically the ash turns to glass on the hot jet engine turbine blades. It might not be nearly as bad for piston engine planes assuming they have air filters, which is not always the case.

there's a blackhat video here (all I could find) it's the whole show. Luckily the demo is at the beginning. If someone could cut out the pertinant clip it would be cool

http://www.megavideo.com/?d=0XOVBR18

Easy way to find out. (4, Insightful)

ThurstonMoore (605470) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971336)

Richard Branson should fly through an ash cloud and let us know.

Don't become another statistic (1)

Oceanplexian (807998) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971342)

I'll have a go at this one. I'm a pilot and I see this regularly in the US with general aviation pilots. It's statistically safer than driving because we're taught how to deal with calculated risks and weigh the consequences. This is why aviation is so safe, the best way to avoid a dangerous situation is to avoid it in the first place.

I once asked my dad, a former martial arts teacher "How do I dodge a bullet". His reply? "Don't get into the situation in the first place".

Re:Don't become another statistic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971366)

I.e. being an idiot disqualifies you from flying a plane. No such basic logic or critical thinking test exists with driving.

Anonymous Coward (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971348)

I measured the effects of engine ingestion of ash, etc. for several years, and crash/failure rates, for a major military aircraft manufacturer. It was one of our highest priority concerns. As our founder said, we would not build a single-engine aircraft--two at least, to bring the pilot home. Don't underestimate the effect of rocks bashing multi-layer coated alloy blades spinning at X in a plasma. As I told my students, just jump up and down a few times: gravity works.

No (2, Informative)

igotmybfg (525391) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971360)

Aviation safety is not repeat NOT something to play around with. Better for an airline to lose a few million pounds and passengers to be stranded somewhere than for a plane to lose engine power in the middle of the Atlantic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ash_cloud#Aviation [wikipedia.org]

REmember Mt. Saint Helens? (4, Interesting)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971378)

I don't know how many flights were grounded, but I worked on some planes that passed through the cloud. When popping some panels to change the reading lights, I would find small piles of ash (more like gray sand) up inside. Nobody seemed too concerned about it. They probably figured they would clean it up during the next "C" inspection(they tear out the entire interior). And the engines would probably remain until somebody complains about reduced power or high turbine temps or fuel consumption. Now, if you want to really wreck an airplane, fly it through some hail [flickr.com] . And be ready for a tremendous noise.

Just ask the BBC (4, Interesting)

Anaerin (905998) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971382)

As ably demonstrated by "Bang Goes the Theory [bbc.co.uk] " on the BBC (UK-only video, unfortunately, but the content is up on Youtube (for now) here [youtube.com] ), at Jet-engine internal temperatures the volcanic ash melts into glass, that then sticks to both the turbine blades and the casing, and can cause imbalance and catastrophic failure, but there is a fix! If you turn off the engines and glide the plane through cold air and allowing the turbine blades to cool down, the metal contracts, which is enough variance to shatter the brittle glass and expel it from the engine. However, of course, this involves turning off the engines for an extended period, finding a patch of cold air to glide through, and hoping the glass shatters and is expelled, and that you can get the engines fired back up again, before you get what is referred to in the business as an "Uncontrolled descent into terrain".

Gov't bailouts is required in social democracies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971390)

Strong unions = salaries are pushed up to the level where the company is barely earning money. Competition = pushes this further.
Unforeseen crisis = company incurs huge loss that it struggles to meet from either accumulated reserves or by raising capital, as financers only inject capital if there is money to be made, which there by definition isn't.
Result: Strong unions and crises means government intervention are required. For auto companies as much as for airlines.

[Solved] (1)

psnyder (1326089) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971400)

The effect of volcanic ash on airplane engines can be found here. [lmgtfy.com]

sigh (1)

nnet (20306) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971422)

Because overreaction and lost sales are certainly more important than passenger safety.

Jet Engine Washing (1)

fragMasterFlash (989911) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971444)

I remember reading an article not too long ago about the process of cleaning jet engines on the tarmac and the benefits of increased fuel efficiency associated with including this technique as part of regular scheduled maintenance. Is anyone reading this qualified to discuss how efficient this process would be at removing volcanic ash?

Of course he has... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971448)

...he's running an airline!
If I were a money loving, airline running idiot, I'd call the ban an overreaction as well.

When it comes to thinking about the fact that we don't have a lot of information about how volcanic ash affects air travel, though, it seems to be more reasonable to be "more safe than sorry".
And this is ignoring the Finnish experiences and all those we've already had, that reasonable people are able to accept as dangerous to air travel.
Oh god, it's the same shit every time something happens that the people making money off of aren't willing to accept. This world is fucked beyond belief.
Captcha: "nodded", which is what all the sentient people did.

More research people (1)

turbclnt (1776692) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971462)

Generally, when people can only support an argument with a newspaper article, you'd fund a university to do some baseline research for you to get some data to back up your claim. I mean, this is how pharma, oil, silicon, mining, and many many many other industries work. However, the problem is you have to *pay* a university to do this work thing for you. Since airlines pretty much all charge $15 to check a bag, its unlikely that any airline will ever pay for any kind of research. That would be some common sense long term planning...something that appears to be absent from all current business school textbooks.

Re:More research people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971524)

Airlines pay for research. Delta sponsors a few things at Georgia Tech. Delta's even listed as a sponsor on the Georgia Tech sign (the one on I-85 S before the North Ave exit). You can see it on Google Maps

Everything is safe . . . (1)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971470)

. . . until it is not safe. As for the money, it never hurts to ask, which reminds me. Can anyone mod this up?

Damned if you do, damed if you don't. (1)

TavisJohn (961472) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971476)

This is one of those "You are screwed no matter what you do" situations.

If the government had allowed flights to continue, and there was damage to plains, then airlines would be going after the government for the repair costs.
If a plane were to crash because of either the debris going through the engine, OR the windshield being "sand blasted" eliminating viability, then the government would be blamed for the deaths.

However they chose to error on the side of caution, because they felt it was better than taking a chance with lives and expensive equipment.

Was there no contingency plan? Alternate routes? (0)

aristotle-dude (626586) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971526)

I'm shocked that they could not reroute the flights south through an alternate route and that they seemed to have no contingency plans for this sort of event. Could they not route the flights around the affected area adding an hour to the flight time?

"greedy airlines" (3, Insightful)

Sheepmage (1310569) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971528)

I find the greedy airlines bit in the summary to be rather offensive. I'm sure more than a few local European airlines will go bankrupt because of what happened. And billions of dollars of potential revenue were lost. Airline companies haven't exactly been rolling in it of late....remember when the high oil prices nearly ran a few of them out of business a year or two ago? These airlines employ thousands of people who are just trying to get by, just trying to make a living, and as companies, they run razor thin margins. And then there are the thousands of travelers who were trapped, burning through their wallets living out of a hotel who couldn't get back home. And the summary basically implies that this is all about greed. This story isn't about greed: it's about survival - people trying to make a living despite a crazy natural disaster that had a very negative impact on many, many people's lives. These people feel like the government was overly aggressive about shutting down air space and didn't sufficiently consider the magnitude of effects it would have on the airlines and the travelers. If the government made a mistake here and it had severe financial implications for lots of people, then government ought to take responsibility for its actions and compensate them.

Nope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31971536)

I rather see people on TV overreacting about flight bans than searching for dead people.

Geek Priorities: (1, Insightful)

Hartree (191324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971542)

Branson: The shutdown of airspace was a massive overreaction that needlessly cost us large amounts of money and we should be compensated.

Slashdot geek: Branson is being a greedy corporate pig that doesn't care about lives and wants a bailout.
He should be replaced!

Branson: It cost us enough that we're shutting down Virgin Galactic and there will be no suborbital space tourist flights.

Same Slashdot geek: Those overcautious government nanny state meddlers wasted so much money on a needless overreaction, and are scuppering private development of space.
They should be replaced!

Goodwill: Sorry, already gone (1)

Chunky Kibbles (530549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971562)

First... It seems obvious at this point that volcanic ash does, in fact, destroy engines. The fact that "how much ash for how much destruction" is unknown, well, I can almost sympathise with the airlines, and perhaps the governments really were erring a bit vigorously on the side of caution.

Then I think... Man, there was a time when airlines garnered occasional goodwill. I'd feel I'd been treated well by them, where there wasn't nickel-and-diming at every turn, where flying didn't make me feel like a criminal [sure, not entirely the airlines fault, but I don't remember any of them ever stepping up on behalf of their customers].

That time has passed. Nowadays it brings nothing but joy to me to see their airlines suffering. In some parts of the world stuff like this is known as karma. Treat your customers like shit, eventually mother nature dumps thousands of tons of rock on your ass.

Gary (-;

Re:Goodwill: Sorry, already gone (1)

Chunky Kibbles (530549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971574)

Oh, and I should add that a relatively piddling amount of money in the face of "no, seriously, this *will* kill your customers" is hardly making me think more highly of them.

Gary (-;

This has just been discussed over at ScienceBlogs (4, Informative)

Opyros (1153335) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971566)

Erik Klemetti's Eruptions blog has a recent post called Eyjafjallajökull flight cancellations: How the right decision is being made to look wrong [scienceblogs.com] defending the decision to cancel, with much discussion in the comments section. (IMO, that blog's recent series of posts on the Iceland situation has been the best place to read about the eruption.)

no way (1)

supernova87a (532540) | more than 4 years ago | (#31971636)

Two points:

1. The policymakers for an issue like airline/passenger safety should not be forced to pay for their reasonable decisions afterwards. The reason our air travel is safe is because people like pilots and air traffic controllers are independently allowed to make safety calls, without threat of retribution financially or politically directly as a result of their judgments. Everyone in positions of safety administration know the stakes -- it could be much worse if they were made directly accountable for the bill later.

2. But even then, as long as the air traffic stop affected all players, I think no one should be compensated. They all suffer on an equal baseline, and as competitors, no one is unfairly hurt/unhurt by the stoppage. Everyone suffered the same setback, and will have to deal with it. If there are job losses perhaps due to the event, then let the government help through normal channels. But just outright paying for a naturally-caused suspension of operations is ridiculous -- government is about correcting inequity, and there was nothing unequal about this.
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