Grimsvötn: Europe better prepared this time, but challenges remain

Europes airlines and airports, represented by the Association of European Airlines (AEA) and ACI EUROPE (Airports Council International), met with senior European Commission officials to review progress made in the handling of the latest volcanic eruption in Iceland.
In the hours following the eruption of the Grimsvötn volcano, the European Commission and EUROCONTROL activated the European Aviation Crisis Co-ordination Cell (EACCC). This high-level group is tasked with managing crisis situations as they evolve so as to ensure full co-ordination and an optimised, uniform response from all actors involved. It includes senior representatives from the European Commission, EUROCONTROL, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Member States, the aviation industry and unions.
 
Olivier Jankovec, Director General ACI EUROPE said For those feeling a sense of déjà vu, I can tell you that this latest eruption is being handled in a very different manner. Lessons have been learned from the previous volcanic ash shock in April 2010. This past year, the European Commission, EUROCONTROL and EASA have worked intensely to devise an alternative procedure for flight operations, safeguarding the highest possible level of safety, while minimising disruption. This procedure is at the disposal of national governments. It now needs to be applied promptly and consistently throughout Europe.
 
He added As the situation is evolving by the hour, airports across Europe are gearing up for the possibility of further disruption and working closely with their airline partners, doing all they can to keep passengers informed.
 
Compared with a year ago, so far we are seeing  a stronger unity and clarity of response which is absolutely vital to airlines and the travelling public, said Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, Secretary General of AEA. European institutions are actively communicating as the situation unfolds and Member States are widely endorsing safety risk assessments, which are performed by individual airlines and agreed by national authorities. Our governments and airlines are, of course, maintaining safety as their key priority.
 
We must remember this is a rapidly-changing situation, so it is essential to maintain this common European approach, he added. Fragmentation among Member States at this critical stage will only confuse airline passengers and cause unnecessary disruption.
 
Mr Schulte-Strathaus recalled that back in April 2010 governments pursued a blanket approach to airspace closures. This led to nearly 8,000 flight cancellations on the first day of the ash crisis, compared with just 500 flights cancelled so far. On an average day 29,000 flights are handled in European airspace, according to EUROCONTROL figures.
 
Although further air traffic disruptions cannot be ruled out, Mr Schulte-Strathaus says the new procedures have enabled airlines to maintain extremely high safety standards and stable operations, while minimising passenger inconvenience.
 
ACI EUROPE and the AEA will continue to monitor the situation closely as it develops, in close partnership with their members and the authorities.
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