Thinking Tech

Toss Branson's absurd call for compensation into the ashes

Posting in Government

Richard Branson's request for government compensation resulting from the ash cloud aviation suspension is pure nonsense. Various aviation authorities in Europe did the right thing.

Two cliches come to mind now that some European airlines executives are saying officials overreacted to barring airlines from flying through or around clouds of ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

"Damned if you do, damned if you don't" applies to whatever decision regulators made. Had they allowed planes to fly, they would have been accused of courting disaster, which in fact might have been the case. Rather, they adopted a "better safe than sorry" stance which made the sense to me.

Ash and jet engines don't like each other. credit: bbs.stardestroyer.net

The counter argument is sound science and engineering proving  that some jumbo-jets could have safely plied the Atlantic during the near week-long suspension. That's what Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson claimed on Saturday. From this morning's Travel News at Comparecarhire.co.uk:

"Branson added that experts, as well as his own engineers, had been telling him all through the crisis that there was no danger to aircraft unless they actually flew directly over the top of the erupting volcano. He said that there were enough corridors avoiding the volcanic ash through which to fly planes, and that the government had clearly over reacted by closing the skies."

The same web site also reported this morning that Britain's National Air Traffic Service (NATS) is still checking engines for ash-related damage. There have been reports of fighter jets where ash caused damage to their engines. Volcanic ash has definitely has been shown to damage jet engines, leading to loss of power (see photo).

"There could hardly be any doubt about the gravity of the situation as the huge volcanic ash cloud from Iceland covered more than half of Europe given that, on April 15, a pair of Finnish Air Force Boeing F18 Hornet fighters took off and had serious problems with their engines. When they returned, the inspected engines showed classic internal volcanic ash damage and they may never power an aircraft again. It was an early and unmistakable warning," according to a story in the Irish Sunday Business Post Online."

As much I sympathize with those stranded overseas, even the remotest chance of power loss over the world's second biggest ocean is enough to ground me. The debate centers on just how much ash can an engine encounter and safely operate. Were there aviation corridors clear of ash?

As for Branson, he reportedly wants to be compensated by the British government for the estimated $77 million he has lost from the flight suspensions out in $2 billion of industry-wide red ink. Almost all flights in Europe resumed late last week although travelers were told to expect periodic disruptions, according to NATS.

I guess no one told Branson that volcanic ash is just one of the many occupational hazards in the airline business. Granted, his is a tough business, but I say NO to Branson getting bailed out from this awesome act of nature. Move on and get about safely conducting your business.

Like British regulators, other European governments did the right thing by erring on the side of caution which, of course, always applies to aviation. Another cliche: "It's better wishing you were in the air than being in the air and wishing you were on the ground (or in the water)." Hallelujah! For more perspective on aviation, follow the link to hundreds of "Geat Aviation Quotes."

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure