Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Ryanair joins in

With easyJet considering taking on the government over the volcanic ash debacle, we now have Michael O'Leary (pictured), the head of Ryanair, getting in on the act.

This is good to see as, when I first raised questions about this, I was rather out on a limb. The bulk of the comments were distinctly hostile to my thesis and there was only limited support for my view that the closure of the airspace was an over-reaction.

Anyhow, from a safe distance after the event, O'Leary has now rounded on the Met Office's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre for its handling of "aviation's biggest crisis since the war", launching a "vitriolic attack" on their forecasters. Met Office charts, he says, "suggested the that the big black plume of volcanic ash had spread from Iceland all over the southern Atlantic, much of continental Europe and half way across Russia as well as over a large part of the arctic circle."

"The fact is the sun wasn't blocked out in any of these areas and none of us could see a bl**dy thing didn't seem to worry the Met Office, where we suspect the only place that there was volcanic ash was in the basement of the Met Office or in between the ears of the people who produced these charts," he said.

"I don't mind paying passenger right to care when it is our fault. But if it is not our fault and some stupid regulator or government has closed down airspace, because some idiot in a basement in the Met Office in London spills coffee over the map of Europe and produces a big black cloud, we shouldn't be paying for your right to care," O'Leary continued.

"They made a complete dog's balls of it yet passed this cost onto the airlines. We paid compensation for their mismanagement for and incompetence," he then concludes.

O'Leary, though, has got it wrong – as he did with the Irish referendum. As we pointed out earlier, it was not the Met Office, per se that was wrong, but the regulators relying on the Met Office models, without insisting on independent, physical verification of data – using direct measurement from airborne sampling.

Picking on the Met Office alone is bound to be highly entertaining, but it isn't going to win a court case. For that, the actual decision-makers need to be identified, which is not going to be that easy, given the way responsibility has been diffused.

Also, the airlines are not going to be able to walk away from their own responsibilities. They had plenty of opportunities to comment on the IACO contingency plan and one wonders how many – Ryanair included – complained about the inadequacies and the lack of resources, before the event.

And how many now really understand why and how the system went wrong? It doesn't look as if O'Leary has quite got a handle on it. If he is not careful, there will be another "dog's balls" in the making – only it will be his this time.