Geneva - The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is encouraged by the improved coordination of European authorities thus far in managing its airspace in light of the Grimsvotn volcanic eruption. IATA also cautioned that the absence of a formal agreement at the political level to respond in a coordinated and harmonized manner leaves passengers and shippers vulnerable to fragmented decision-making.

“Safety is always our top priority and without any compromise. Work over the last year has put in place a European crisis coordination structure that is facilitating a much more effective management of this ash crisis at a working level. But Grimsvotn is also a dramatic reminder of the disappointing lack of progress at the political level on the Single European Sky. The potential for a patchwork of inconsistent state decisions on airspace management still exists because there is a major disconnect between the improved process and state decisions on airspace availability,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

The 2010 volcanic ash crisis resulted in unnecessary blanket airspace closures because European states took uncoordinated decisions based on a theoretical ash dispersion model with no empirical testing.

Over the last year the European Commission, working with European agencies, including Eurocontrol and airlines, developed a new approach which recommends that:

  • States should not implement blanket closures of airspace
  • Regulators should accept the capability of airlines to conduct their own safety risk assessments prior to flight in any ash affected area

Airline safety risk assessments augment the modeling of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center with empirical data and are supported by airline safety management systems. The UK, Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Norway are among the states that accept airline safety risk assessment procedures. IATA is working closely with the European Aviation Safety Agency to bring the remaining European states on board with this process which has a proven track record in the US and elsewhere.

“Airlines and their customers need certainty. The process is working much more effectively and we have avoided the blanket airspace closures that brought much of the world to a standstill last year. But there is still no formal obligation for a unified and coordinated response. European Transport Ministers should formally agree their determination to avoid a repeat of the 2010 chaos by embracing a common process based on airline safety risk assessments for determining whether and when it is safe to fly. And Europe must urgently follow-up on its promise from last year to accelerate the Single European Sky and ensure that safe airspace remains open for business,” said Bisignani.

Bisignani criticized the UK for the UK test aircraft not being available. In a letter to Philip Hammond, UK Secretary of State for Transport, Bisignani said, “I am very concerned to learn that the CAA aircraft is unavailable. It is astonishing and unacceptable that Her Majesty’s Government cashes GBP 3.5 billon each year in Air Passenger Duty but is incapable of using a small portion of that revenue to purchase another Cessna to use as a back-up aircraft. I ask please that you ensure that all possible efforts are made to get the existing aircraft operational in the shortest possible time.”

It is estimated that the mismanagement of 2010 volcanic ash crisis cost airlines $1.8 billion in lost revenues and cost the global economy as a whole $5 billion.

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Notes for Editors:

  • IATA (International Air Transport Association) represents some 230 airlines comprising 93% of scheduled international air traffic.
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