The answer to this question is probably a resounding "yes" but generally there is some need to qualify it. Crazy smart in many cases as they seem to be still making money, despite the complaints, gripes and crazy policies. And the boss certainly has a way of making noise and getting himself out in front of the cameras. Generally speaking I have no problems with their business model or approach to the game. They’re pretty up-front about all the extra fees and such and they continue to book huge volumes of passengers. But this latest move might just be a bit too much.
Thanks to the eruption of another volcano in Iceland there’s an ash cloud that threatens air traffic over Scotland. The impact last time around was enormous, with some carriers pushed out of business in part due to the costs of the flight cancelations. This time around at least one airline is fighting back. Ryanair has flown at least one aircraft through a forecast ash zone and reported no visible impact. And they’re pushing up against regulators and air traffic controllers with their intentions to fly more, even in supposedly dangerous areas.
Thus the question: Is Ryanair crazy?
Certainly the costs of not flying are huge. Particularly with the EU’s Right to Care requirements, the costs of a canceled flight are not just lost revenue or upset customers; there are significant hard costs that must be shouldered. But what are the costs of flying into such potential harm? Can they even be calculated?
The air travel industry is incredibly safe. Odds of even an injury, much less a fatality, are miniscule compared with nearly every other mode of transportation. This is almost entirely attributable to the sometimes painfully conservative approach taken to safety. Redundancies and backups are the norm, not the exception and the rules err on the side of not flying unless there is tested evidence that things are safe. The German air traffic controllers are holding to that line, refusing passage of aircraft through predicted ash zones. They are suggesting that any airline looking to make such flights provide proof that it is safe, not just that it is likely to not be dangerous. Ryanair is taking the opposite tack, suggesting that the ash issues are a "myth" and that flying is probably safe enough.
Is this simply a case of profits over safety? Or is the air travel industry too conservative to begin with? In other words, is Ryanair crazy?
And, not just to pick on Ryanair, but most other airlines are operating nearly all their flights today, too; only about 500 cancelations are expected. Still, some flights to Northern England, Scotland and Ireland are being scrapped. Unless you’re on Ryanair.
UPDATE: Despite the previous statements that they’d fly, Ryanair has succumbed to the rule of law and canceled their flights.
Following a direction from the Irish Aviation Authority Ryanair regrets that we have been forced to cancel all flights to/from Scottish Airports for the remainder of the day (24 May).
Despite Glasgow Prestwick and Edinburgh Airports being outside the ‘red zone’ on the most recent UK Met Office charts click here for details the UK Civil Authority (CAA) have decided that these charts are wrong and have closed the airspace.
Earlier today Ryanair confirmed that it operated a one hour verification flight up to 41,000 feet in Scottish airspace this morning (24th May). The aircraft took off from Glasgow Prestwick, flew to Inverness, on to Aberdeen and down to Edinburgh – all of which according to the UK Met Office charts were in the “red zone” of “high ash concentration”.
During the flight there was no visible volcanic ash cloud or any other presence of volcanic ash and the post flight inspection revealed no evidence of volcanic ash on the airframe, wings or engines. The absence of any volcanic ash in the atmosphere supports Ryanair’s stated view that there is no safety threat to aircraft in this mythical “red zone” which is another misguided invention by the UK Met. Office and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Ryanair has also received written confirmation from both its airframe and engine manufacturers that it is safe to operate in these so called “red zones” and, in any event, Ryanair’s verification flight this morning confirms that the “red zone” over Scotland is non-existent.
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