GA Active Under Ash Plume

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It appears to have been a surreal weekend for recreational pilots across Europe as those who resisted the stern warnings from their aviation authorities relished skies clear of weather and working aircraft. There are no restrictions on VFR flight in most European countries although the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) issued a Notam on Saturday saying, in part: “VFR operators should operate [with] extreme caution and must assure themselves that their flight can be conducted in a safe manner before flying. Note that ATSOCAS (Air Traffic Services Outside Controlled Airspace) capacity may be severely limited during the period.” A light plane crashed in England on Saturday, but any connection to ash has since been pretty much discounted. Plenty of European pilots took advantage of ideal flying weather (if you don’t count the ash). “Light aeroplanes were free to come and go in the fine spring weather, with controllers undistracted by the commercial traffic that usually takes priority,” wrote Charles Bremner in his blog on the Times Online. Bremner, the Times’ Paris correspondent, flew to Le Touquet and seemed to have had a lovely day without damaging his airplane’s engine. Of course, the airlines are losing tons of money over this and they’re getting tired of a flight ban some think might be unnecessary.

On Saturday, KLM, Air Berlin and Lufthansa essentially risked airframes and engines with test flights through the plume and, although the detailed analysis isn’t in yet, reported no apparent damage. They all want to resume flights and are criticizing the safety-at-all-costs posture of governments. “It is astonishing that these findings … have seemingly been ignored in the decision-making process of the aviation safety authorities,” Air Berlin spokeswoman Diana Daedelow told the BBC. Meanwhile, the UK is floating a proposal to establish a temporary hub in ash-free southern Spain and fly its citizens there, followed by sea and ground transport home.