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However, new evidence shows there was no all-encompassing cloud and, where dust was present, it was often so thin that it posed no risk.
The satellite images demonstrate that the skies were largely clear, which will not surprise the millions who enjoyed the fine, hot weather during the flight ban.
Jim McKenna, the Civil Aviation Authority’s head of airworthiness, strategy and policy, admitted: ‘It’s obvious that at the start of this crisis there was a lack of definitive data.
‘It’s also true that for some of the time, the density of ash above the UK was close to undetectable.’
The satellite images will be used by airlines in their battle to win tens of millions of pounds in compensation from governments for their losses.
The National Air Traffic Control Service decision to ban flights was based on Met Office computer models which painted a picture of a cloud of ash being blown south from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
These models should have been tested by the Met Office’s main research plane, a BAE 146 jet, but it was in a hangar to be repainted and could not be sent up until last Tuesday – the last day of the ban.
Evidence has emerged that the maximum density of the ash was only about one 20th of the limit that scientists, the Government, and aircraft and engine manufacturers have now decided is safe.
British Airways chief Willie Walsh always insisted the total shutdown went too far.
‘My personal belief is that we could have safely continued operating for a period,’ he said.
Just think, but for a coat of paint, thousands of Britons could have been home with their families, commerce could have gone on largely as usual, and airlines (which operate on paper-thin margins as it is) would not be out tens of millions of dollars. Given the notorious precision of the models employed by the Met Office to predict weather, perhaps it would have been wise to send that plane up sans its shiny new paint job? Just a thought.
I guess we should just all be thankful that we’re not relying on the expertise of the Met Office to push broad new government powers. Based on this incident, one could imagine how the world economies might come to a grinding halt, and all based on nothing but an illusion coughed up by a computer model. Well, thank goodness, that could never happen.
Dr. Richard North has much more.