What's Safe? U.S., European Regulators Clash Over Ash
Open Jaw

U.S. and European aviation regulators revealed competing views over the hazards of airliners flying through low-level concentrations of ash, with American officials firm in their stance that such plumes should be avoided under nearly all circumstances.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, senior regulators from the two sides of the Atlantic laid out dramatically different approaches to the problem at a safety conference in New Orleans.

Without directly attacking European decisions to permit flights once ash levels had dropped below a certain limit, Federal Aviation Administration policy makers stressed that U.S. safety rules consider even trace volcanic ash potentially as dangerous as violent thunderstorms – and to be avoided if at all possible.

David Grizzle, the FAA’s general counsel and acting deputy administrator, says he remains convinced the correct option is to tell pilots to avoid ash, provide them with the best possible forecasts and then let individual airlines “make the fly or no-fly decisions.” Carriers are “better able to integrate the risks” than government bureaucrats, Mr. Grizzle said, and Europe’s efforts amounted to a “different response from what we would have done.”

John Allen, head of the FAA’s flight standards office, later said the agency expects pilots to avoid all volcanic clouds because “right now, we’re afraid of what we don’t know” about potential damage to engines and other systems. “We have the tools [and] we have the procedures” to avoid flying through adverse weather systems, Mr. Allen said “That’s the best way . . . to safely avoid ash.”

Patrick Goudou, head of the European Aviation Safety Agency, said he didn’t consider the FAA comments to be attacks on European policies. He wants global safety standards for flights in areas that have low levels of volcanic ash. He indicated that long-standing international rules about avoiding ash altogether no longer were viable given the political and economic stresses prompted by April’s eruption. “It changes everything in my mind.”

Leave a Reply