Science and the Flight Ban: how did we do?

The flight ban is lifted, regulations have been reviewed. The question is, how did science come out of this crisis?

I am afraid to say, not very well. At least not in Public Relations terms. Watching a popular satirical comedy show on TV (Have I got News for You) the other night I was distraught to hear the events interpreted as follows:

  1. Scientists decide ash is too dangerous for planes to fly through. All flights are grounded.
  2. Airline companies not pleased and start putting pressure on government to lift ban.
  3. Government puts pressure on scientists.
  4. Science changes its conclusions under political/commercial pressure.
  5. Ban is lifted.

Of course this is not what happened. The airline companies were not pleased and therefore carried out 96 hours of test flights. They worked with the plane manufacturers and the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) to determine what exactly a safe level of ash in the atmosphere is and set new tolerance limits (the original limit was zero).

However this more complicated and less adversarial story was perhaps not as newsworthy.

Or perhaps the CAA just needs a better PR person.

Some links:

A report on the crisis by the Guardian newspaper

Volcanic Ash Cloud restrictions embarrassing – from the Telegraph newspaper

The Truth behind the opening of the skies” by the CAA

Esther Crooks


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