They are suddenly the people everyone wants to talk to. But the latest news from the European aviation control agency is far from reassuring.
Eurocontrol said it expected around 4,000 flights in Europe’s airspace against 24,000 normally on a Saturday. And the situation was not improving.
“There is no real significant change in where the danger area or the ash cloud is,” said Eurocontrol’s Ken Thomas. “It is still spreading out over the whole of northern and central Europe. The countries that are currently free and where airports can take off and land are Portugal, Spain, southern Italy, Bulgaria and the countries south thereof.”
Aviation authorities are taking no chances, with potentially catastrophic consequences feared if flights resume too soon. The plume of ash could wreak havoc on jet engines and airframes, as a French expert explains.
“In a jet engine, there are pipes, there are sensors and antennae,” said Gérard Feldzer, Director of the Le Bourget Air and Space Museum. “We have often talked about Pitot speed sensors. All that gets blocked. It interferes with the on-board systems and it also causes the engines to cut out completely. Hence the pilots above Indonesia and Alaska who lost power in all their engines.”
Fortunately, disaster was avoided in those two real- life dramas. The aim now is not to put pilots or their passengers in that life-threatening position again.