Leader: Aviation authority must get safety tests off the ground

NEVER backward in coming forward, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary yesterday dispatched one of his aircraft to fly into the clouds of volcanic ash over Scotland's skies to prove the warnings from aviation authorities over flight safety were so much volcanic hot air.

In characteristically forthright terms, Mr O'Leary then declared the Met Office's ash charts as fictitious and unreliable before lambasting the Civil Aviation Authority, CAA, for shutting the skies to his aeroplanes when there was no debris in the skies and no risk to passengers.

While we might admire the Ryanair chief's willingness to take on authority, we are not convinced that he has made the case that it is safe to take to the air. First, the CAA replied to his broadside by claiming his plane had not flown through high-density ash and, second, asserted the aircraft did not have proper equipment to measure the danger. Given the risk there could still be to aircraft flying safely, it was right for the authorities to err on the side of caution in "closing" the skies over Scotland, though in doing so they severely inconvenienced tens of thousands of passengers.

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What is of greater concern is that the CAA's own ash testing aircraft is currently not flying, thereby depriving the watchdog of a means of gathering firm evidence on the danger, or otherwise. As these eruptions are likely to grow more frequent we need to know more about them and the dangers they may pose. By failing to be able to test air conditions, the CAA has not got off to a flying start in this process.