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Saturday, June 05, 2010


Previously I said that the ash cloud from Iceland was likely to have a disastrous effect on flights across Europe for many months.

Then I acknowledged I had got it wrong by putting trust in the government regulators who had said this ash cloud was dangerous. This has proven to be the ravings of government bureaucratic empire builders & there is no sign whatsoever of any significant actual damage caused by the ash (as distinct from the hundreds of millions of £s destroyed by the bureaucrats.

However I was wrong there too. Just because the ash itself has proven harmless this has not stopped the occasional government closing of airports. If the adjoining & larger Katlya volcano erupts, as historically it has following every such eruption, then the ash cloud will become much heavier & the opportunity to ban things therefore much greater.

On the other hand I was right about one thing. The correct solution.
On the grounds that the solution to technological problems is improved technology we should be looking that way
According to the ever excellent EU Referendum
Technology may be about to resolve the problem of volcanic ash, thus rescuing the hard-pressed airline industry – which is as it always has been. This is through the use of a system called AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector), which has been around for some time, but has never previously got off the ground – so to speak.

The equipment – in essence, modified infra-red detectors which can pick up volcanic dust clouds, relying on their IR absorbency characteristics – is to be trialled by easyJet, which has put £1 million into a research pot in the hope that its use will minimise future disruption from volcanic ash.

These data provided by the kit will, in theory, enable pilots to detect ash clouds up to 62 miles (100 kilometres) ahead of and at altitudes between 5,000 and 50,000 ft, allowing pilots to make adjustments to flight paths if needed. Data can also be transmitted to a ground station, allowing real-time plots of ash-clouds to be built up, reducing the reliance on Met Office predictions.

The technology had yet to be fully validated for commercial use, much less approved by safety regulators, but the attempt by easyJet to find a solution makes for a interesting contrast with the Civil Aviation Authority, which is actually charged with the job of ensuring the safety of UK airspace...

And there you have the classic divergence in attitude. The industry, which has to keep the show on the road in order to make money, gets on with finding solutions to problems, while the regulator concentrates on covering its own arse and bitching that the industry has not been doing enough.
Not the specific solution I suggested but that is the what improving the technology means. Three cheers for Easyjet then. Developing systems that help everybody is somewhere that, in theory, government should be better at than individual entrepreneurs. In theory the CCA should have been putting up £1 million, preferably in the form of a prize, out of their small change, to test something like this. Practice indicates, yet again how very poor established bureaucracies are at innovation. Note that even within the market it is Easyjet, the newest, least bureaucratic & least government supported that has done this.

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