Sunday, April 18, 2010

Airlines Claim: "There Is No Ash Up There" :o)

News reports suggest pilots want to take off within European airspace and conduct low level flights, as airlines say they are 'unconvinced' by threat of volcanic dust clouds.

As the volcanic clouds thicken some pilots are asking, why can't we fly beneath it? The Dutch have sent a plane up and they claim, hey! There is no ash up there! On Saturday, German Lufthansa flew 10 empty long-haul planes to Frankfurt Airport from Munich. The pilots flew the planes at low altitude under so-called visual flight rules, in which pilots don’t have to rely on their instruments .. as the planes were empty with no passengers on board the flights were allowed. The Lufthansa planes flew at various levels between 3,000 and 8,000 metres.

I don't find that funny .. how can you have pilots from all over the world taking off over Europe and flying between 3,000 and 8,000 meters following visual flight rules, with no reliance on their instruments? Because if something does go wrong .. a crash would cost airlines less than the losses they are making not flying .. and that is a fact.

I surmise that National and International air routes all have their flight altitudes, their flight paths (take off and landing) and cruising flight corridors. A highly complex system set out over European airspace, that airlines have to follow, and that connect to International flight corridors and routes. On a technical level I imagine it is encoded into the autopilots of the planes, and is set as part of the flight system, with altitude regulation, connecting to the flight controller hubs - who have to regulate the air traffic.

Flights using visual flight rules, when landing, the incoming flight path is a lot lower than it normally is. Sending 7 planes in one direction when the whole airspace is clear of any other traffic, under low altitude flight using visual flight rules is not the same as resuming commercial flights across Europe .. and what if the weather changes en route?

Visual flight rules (VFR) are a set of regulations which allow a pilot to operate an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. [Wikipedia VFR]

Even better than that! "Visual Flight Rules require a pilot to be able to see outside the cockpit, to control the aircraft's altitude, navigate, and avoid obstacles and other aircraft."

I am sure there are Airlines, pilots and passengers who would take the risk and see what comes .. To avoid collisions, the VFR pilot is expected to "see and avoid" obstacles and other aircraft .. You have go to that link and read it all.

Rules governing flight during periods of generally good visibility and limited cloud cover (i.e., a pilot’s ability to fly and navigate by looking out the windows of the airplane). Aircraft flying under the VFR system are not required to be in contact with air traffic controllers and are responsible for their own separation from other aircraft. The visual flight rules (VFR) system is utilized almost exclusively by recreational pilots or low-flying piston-engine airplanes.

Airlines are said to be conducting test flights on 'ash cloud safety'. It's safe until one of them comes down. The flight issue seems to be the unknown question of where the ash is and where it is going - due to ongoing weather fluctuations and the fact that the ash is entering the same air routes aviation use to fly around.

This is the old situation between commerce, industry and safety. As we see, it is not economical to be 'safe', when facing a complex unknown. Businesses who rely on the whole flight industry are losing a lot of money. The flight industry are losing a lot of money. The latest news is that airlines are searching for a safe path through the volcanic ash '-)

The volcanic ash plume does not show up on the radar of commercial aircraft .. maybe the pilots can just look out the window and try to fly through it.