When the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland erupted and caused air travel chaos a few weeks ago the reporting of the chaos was presented as if it is a story that will literally blow over.
Aviation expert David Learmount yesterday reminded BBC viewers that this might change air travel for a generation.
Nobody can predict when this – or other – volcanos will stop pumping ash into the sky so there are only a couple of realistic long-term solutions:
1. Build engines that can fly though the ash without any danger to the aircraft
2. Build better real-time warning systems so pilots don’t need to cancel flights, they can take evasive action to go above, below, or around a dangerous ash cloud
Today we aren’t in a position where either is feasible, and the second option looks more feasible than the first. So we might face years of ash chaos and uncertainty now, until the boffins produce a system that can model an immense area of our atmosphere in real-time.
Don’t forget, a regular airliner can cruise along at more than 20km a minute… so even 10 minutes of cruising can cover 200km. Now imagine multiplying distance east-west with north-south and depth to an altitude of about 13,000 metres.
This is a problem that’s not going to be solved anytime soon.