Through the cloud of volcanic ash spewed by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafyallajokull, that is. As thousands of flights were canceled over the weekend, desperate travelers sought any possible way out of airport lounge purgatory, driving across countries and paying unprecedented prices for one-way taxi or bus rides.
The flights resume, after a few test flights were made by 'intrepid' airline executives. "No problems. We can handle this." But a few anecdotes don't make data. Existing data shows:
Item 1 : $3.2 million worth of damage to a NASA DC-8 flown through volcanic ash spewed by a sister volcano Hekla. Interestingly, this detailed study shows that the plane appeared to function fine for about 68 hours of flying time after the passage through the ash cloud. The damage became evident only after that time. This could account for the preliminary 'no problem' assessment for the commercial jets' test flights. But will it result in failures as more air time is accumulated?
Item 2: Data and photos of engine damage to Finnish air force planes that flew through the ash spewed by Eyjafjallajokull a few hours before airspace was finally closed.
Item 3: What happened to British Airways and KLM flights in the '80s.
"In one incident, all four engines of British Airways flight shut down when flying though the ash of an Indonesian eruption in 1982. The same thing occurred in 1989 when a KLM jet flew through a cloud of ash in Alaska. Both flights were able to restart their engines, but only after losing more than 10,000 feet of altitude.
"Even when you set aside things like potential law suits from loss of life, and things like that, the damage to the plane by flying through the ash can run into tens of millions of dollars," says Benjamin Edwards, a volcanologist at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.
KLM, for example, had to replace all four engines on the aircraft, which was less than a year old, at a cost of $80 million."
I hope that this resumption of flights doesn't lead to any problems, but the track record for airplanes flying through volcanic ash clouds, is unfortunately, NOT GOOD.