To fly or not to fly?

To fly or not to fly?

Recent closures to UK airports have once again left thousands of airline passengers stranded. On Tuesday May 18 further changes were made to the rules governing aircraft flying through volcanic ash clouds. To help unravel the latest information, we’ve compiled this short question and answer to help you with your volcanic ash questions.

Volcanic ash cloud Q & A

How likely will it be that volcanic ash will affect my flight?

The bad news is that there is still a chance that any flights to or from the UK over the next few weeks or months could be affected by a volcanic ash cloud. The good news is that cancellations are now much less likely than they were at the start of the crisis, and many flights recently affected have managed to be rescheduled later in the day rather than cancelled altogether.

How have the changes in volcanic ash sensitivity affected my chances of flying out?

This could depend on the carrier you have booked with. The first major reduction in volcanic ash density safety levels came after flights were cancelled in or out of the UK for five days last month. By sending up test aircraft during this period, carriers, engine manufacturers and air safety organisations agreed that the amount of ash present in the air needed to cancel a flight could be higher than before. This has led to shorter closures of UK airports since it was introduced.

What about yesterday’s news that this level was going to be cut further?

The level has been cut further – but only for carriers whose engine manufacturers have said that it is safe to fly at the new density levels agreed and issued them permission to fly.

Within this agreement there is a time limit for how long a plane can fly through the ash, so it has been called a Time Limited Zone (TLZ). So far Flybe is the first airline to get consent to be able to fly through a TLZ.

Flybe estimates that around 90% of its flights previously cancelled will now be able to fly under the new agreement, and expects to see as little as 3% of its flights affected in the future if the ash cloud reappears at similar levels. That’s about the same chance as extreme weather conditions, such as gales, blizzards or heavy fog.

Have any other airlines matched the new levels?

Most airlines are expected to be able to offer a similar level of assurance and service going forward. However there is still the possibility of a heavy ash cloud concentration closing airports or airspace for short periods, both in the UK and across Europe.

What is the new level of ash cloud density that planes will be flying through?

It equates to around two grains of ash in a bath full of airspace.

Why have air safety experts been so concerned about the effect of ash on aircraft?

In 1982 a British Airways 747 nearly crashed after flying through volcanic ash over the Indian Ocean. The pilot was able to restart all four engines and make an emergency landing.

What effect does ash have on an aircraft engine?

Ash can clog the jet fuel and cooling systems, as well as erode metal on the engine’s fan and form glassy coatings over the turbine, forcing it to grind to a halt. It can also affect sensors outside of the aircraft which inform the pilot on the aircraft’s condition.

Why have airlines been so unhappy about the recent closures?

They have lost a lot of money, but their main issue was that the closures were based on Met Office forecasting computer model rather than actual measures of ash in the air. Virtually all of them, including British Airways, felt the closures were unnecessary, while one, Aer Lingus, felt that the public could still be in danger in open airspace due to inaccurate forecasts.

Should I still check with my airline before I travel?

We recommend you check your flight online before leaving home, even if you haven’t heard of any ash cloud warnings.

If my flight still gets cancelled, what are my rights?

According to the Trading Standards Institute you have a contract with the airline to get you from A to B. If the airline cannot get you there, you have the right to a refund, or to be rebooked on another flight offered by the airline. You should not be charged any administration fee or excess for either of these choices.

Any other alternatives?

UK online betting company Paddy Power has launched a volcano betting site. By betting your airport will be closed because of a volcanic ash cloud on the day of travel, you could “win” your bet and use the money to holiday elsewhere. Of course if you get away smoothly, you lose your money.

See dramatic images from inside the heart of the volcano

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