Ash Cloud Revisited

Posted by Charlie on 1 June, 2011


Another Icelandic volcano erupts: what lessons have been learnt by the aviation industry?

June article of the month from the e-lesson archive: ‘Ash cloud’.

The e-lesson ‘Ash Cloud’ (April 2010) posed the question: “What happens if there is another eruption?”. Now we know. On Tuesday May 21st, the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn erupted, and once again European air traffic was affected.

In the resulting chaos, around 500 flights were cancelled, mostly in Scotland and Germany. The images of people sleeping at airports were all too familiar. Even the President of the United States was forced to change his travel plans, flying out of the Republic of Ireland and into England early for his appointment with the Queen. Football club Barcelona flew into London earlier than scheduled for their Champions League final at Wembley.

However, one year after the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the aviation industry seems to have learnt a lot. This time, there was no blanket closure of European airspace, as there was last year, and with different weather conditions, there was far less disruption. Today, there is better monitoring of ash clouds, and improved assessment of the levels of risk for flying passenger planes.

Nevertheless, disagreement still exists between airlines and the aviation authorities about when it is safe to fly. Therefore, in this age of high-tech business communication, why risk the disruption of flight cancellations and stranded employees? Surely it is more sensible for companies to reduce travel costs and organise more conference calls and virtual meetings. After all, we still cannot predict when a volcano will erupt, or when an earthquake or tornado will strike. We are, as the e-lesson stated, living in the “post volcanic-ash era” of business travel.

Some areas you may wish to explore with your business English students are:

  • How safe do you think it is to fly through volcanic ash?
  • Has your company changed its employee travel policy in any way over the last year?
  • Do you think global companies should increase their use of video-conferencing? Why / why not?

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