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21 Apr, 2010 06:58

Ash emergency – European life goes back to normal

Airports in Europe continue to reopen among rising questions of whether Europe has overreacted to the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

The majority of scheduled flights are now set to go ahead, as the volcanic activity starts to calm down.

Millions of stranded travelers now have been given a hope of reaching their homes after six days of being stuck in airports due to the paralysis of most of the continent’s airspace.

Britain is reopening its airspace but, according to authorities, no-fly zones will remain where the ash density is deemed unsafe.

More than 95,000 flights were cancelled across Europe in the last week and it may take weeks to get passengers home.

Airports were closed after fears that volcanic ash from Iceland could clog aircraft engines, with potentially fatal consequences.

Some experts still claim the reaction has been an overreaction.

Iain Maciver, a radio host, believes the response to the volcanic ash, the same as the reaction to bird flu, was exaggerated by European regulators.

“They do tend to be over cautious and I think we’ve seen a lot of that in all these cases – swine flu, bird flu, and now the ash cloud,” Maciver told RT. “I think we are seeing a sort of very cautious over-response, if you like, which is really not that helpful, because as soon as the facts are known, they should not cling on in defense of the positions that they have, they should look at relaxing restrictions.”

Artur Saltykovsky, a leading scientist from the Institute of Earth's Physics, says that volcanic ash is no longer a danger.

“Of course if you are near the volcano’s mouth it is very dangerous for anyone,” he told RT. “But now all the elements in the atmosphere from the recent eruption are not dangerous for people. And the best examples of this are birds, which are flying in the ash cloud. The volcanic eruption can be compared with the opening of champagne: the gas bursts through first, but then calms down.”

“The energy that caused the eruption is reducing,” the scientist added. “The volcanoes dust plume was very high in the beginning, about ten kilometers above the volcano. And now it’s going down. It’s already dropped to 4.5. As you can see now, European airports are starting to open, planes are flying, so there is no danger. The panic was exaggerated, but of course, in such cases people need to be cautious.”

“Certainly we’re not arguing with the fact that we close airspace in case of the ash cloud. Our concern is that European governments did not communicate effectively, did not coordinate their efforts and moved too slowly. It took 5 days for European transport ministers to get on the phone with each other and just discuss the situation,” says Steven Lott from the International Air Transport Association.

Still, Lott agrees that despite the disrupted flights and stranded passengers, there should have been no compromise about the safety of the flights. The long-term lesson that should be learned is that more research is necessary into how volcanic ash can influence aircraft.

“It’s absolutely safe to fly today. It just took too long to determine that that’s the fact”, adds Steven Lott.

Read also – Eijafjallajokull and Russia