RTÉ One, Monday, 7.30pm
Scannal

Ash Cloud

Tonight's episode of Scannal - or should that read Scamall (Cloud)! - looks back at the travel mayhem caused by the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption in Iceland which lasted almost eight days. It disrupted over 100,000 flights, affected 10 million passengers and left newscasters red faced and tongue tied!

(Eyjafjallajökull is pronounced AY-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuutl (-uh) , that is -ay as in day, -fy as in few, -oe as in French coeur, -uu as in boot, the -tl as in atlas. The (-uh) is "a" as in ago.)

On April 14th 2010, a volcano under the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland exploded, shooting plumes of ash and dust high into the atmosphere. It was a relatively small eruption but the nature of the ash, the altitude it had reached and the prevalent weather patterns meant that it caused havoc, grounding planes in Europe and beyond. Iceland was once again in the headlines - they'd just previously been the centre of a huge financial crisis which bankrupted them and now it seemed nature was taking revenge. In response, national authorities immediately called for the closure of European Airspace due to the spreading ash cloud. With already escalating financial woes, Europe's airlines were plunged into complete disarray; some never fully recovered. This was travel chaos not seen since WWII.

In the days following the eruption most European flights were cancelled. This decision was slammed by many, including BA's Chief Executive, Willie Walsh who described it as '.a gross over-reaction to a very minor risk'.

Passengers were stunned and left with little option but to sleep on airport floors or fork out large sums for alternative lodgings and transport. It was chaotic and rapidly became global.

"On any day there's what? 29-30,000 planes in the air over Europe? and that just stopped .. it was unprecedented." Michael Sheridan (Motoring journalist stranded in Italy)

"The British sent the Navy and we sent out the Paddywagons! ." Joe Duffy, LIVELINE commenting on the efforts to repatriate stranded passengers. Over 50 busloads of ashcloud travellers were brought back from as far as Istanbul, Stockholm & Milan by Paddywagon Tours. There was a reported 350% increase in ferry traffic.

Not until 23rd of April 2010 did flights get back to normal although additional disruptions continued right into May of that year. The Eyjafjallajökull eruption wasn't declared officially over until October 2010 but the toll of the damage rumbled on. Aer Árann had lost between almost 10% of its income and as a consequence went into examinership. Passengers too were out of pocket.

As the dust clouds settled there was alot of soul searching and fingerpointing about how the crisis had been handled. In May 2012, another Icelandic volcano blew its top! Despite initial fears luckily it did not result in the same widespread disruption - but the need for substantial research was clear.

In December 2012, the centre for Climate and Air Pollution Studies (C-CAPS) at NUI Galway secured funding from the European Space Agency (ESA) for an ash cloud detection and forecasting system. And all the time the legal rows and blame game rumbled on. It wasn't until January 2013 that Denise McDonagh's volcanic lawsuit, against Ryanair for costs incurred as a result of being left stranded in Faro, Portugal, having finally reached the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, was adjudicated in her favour.

So are we now any better equipped to deal with such happenings in the future?

Alarmingly experts claim there are signs of activity in neighbouring Katla Volcano

"The time for Katla to erupt is coming close . we have prepared . it is high time for European governments and airline authorities all over the world to start planning for the eventual Katla eruption" Ólafur Grímsson, Icelandic President

Láithreoir / Tuairisceoir : Sinéad Ní Churnáin
Stiúrthóir : Colm Kirwan
Léiritheoir Feidhmiúcháin: Kevin Cummins

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