The head of the International Civil Aviation Authority says the organization plans to convene a group of experts to draw up guidance for the industry in determining what concentration of volcanic ash would deem it unsafe to fly. Raymond Benjamin's comments come as European airports begin gradually resuming flights after a five-day shut down due to a huge cloud of volcanic ash making its way from Iceland across Europe.
Benjamin said his organization, which is a specialized U.N. agency dealing with air safety, held a special meeting Monday on the issue of volcanic ash standards. "We are going to convene a group of people - industry, manufacturers, IATA [International Air Transport Association], governments, scientists - to start working on these standards," he said.
He said no international standards currently exist stating what concentration of volcanic ash could affect a jet's engine. Tiny particles in the ash can cause engines to stall or shut down and do other damage to planes.
Benjamin said the standards would be "guidance material" for countries. The International Civil Aviation Authority gathers scientific information on volcanic ash at nine centers worldwide, which it then provides to governments. But Benjamin said the decision and responsibility for closing airspace lies solely with individual countries.
Asked if he would fly, Benjamin said he would. "So when you are asking, would you fly? Of course I would fly if the airspace had been re-opened, that means that there is no hazard or risk," he said.
European governments have come in for harsh criticism from groups such as the International Air Transport Association for shutting down airspace after the volcano erupted in Iceland last Wednesday. Airlines are losing some $200 million a day from cancelled flights and the European economy is suffering staggering losses in lost business.
A slideshow of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption