April 19: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is “sharply criticising” European governments for a lack of leadership in handling airspace restrictions following the volcano eruption in Iceland.
In a tersely worded press statement, Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and Chief Executive Officer, said “We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction on how governments have managed it, with no risk assessment, no consultation, no coordination, and no leadership. This crisis is costing airlines at least $200 million a day in lost revenues and the European economy is suffering billions of dollars in lost business. In the face of such dire economic consequences, it is incredible that Europe’s transport ministers have taken five days to organise a teleconference.
“Governments must place greater urgency and focus on how and when we can safely re-open Europe’s skies. This means decisions based on risk-management, facts and utilising operational procedures that maintain safety.”
IATA is critical of Europe’s unique methodology of closing airspace based on theoretical modelling of the ash cloud, and air navigation service providers announcing they would not provide service as a consequence. “Safety is our top priority,” said Bisignani. “Airlines will not fly if it is not safe. The European system results in blanket closures of airspace. Risk assessments should be able to help us re-open certain corridors, if not entire airspaces,” he added.
The scale of airspace closures across Europe is unprecedented. “We have seen volcanic activity in many parts of the world but rarely has it resulted in airspace closures – and never at this scale,” continued Bisignani. “When Mount St. Helens erupted in the US in 1980, we did not see large scale disruptions, because the decisions to open or close airspace were risk managed with no compromise on safety.”
Bisignani has called for an urgent meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the specialised agency of the UN, to define government responsibility.