Co-ordination lacking amid ash cloud havoc

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 April, 2010, 12:00am

Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano has taught our world a most valuable lesson: governments must at all times communicate and co-ordinate. The chaos that began a week ago when the eruption started is a reminder that they sometimes do little of either. The most visible sign has been airports teeming with passengers, but it is only a fraction of the damage that has resulted. Nothing can be done about the ash that has grounded aircraft, but billions of dollars in disrupted trade could have been saved if nations had been more responsive towards globalisation.

This is not the first volcano to disrupt air traffic. Eruptions in the Philippines and US are among many over the years that have shut down airports, and caused delays and diversions. What is different this time is that the ash that is dangerous to aircraft is falling across a wide area on some of the world's busiest air routes. Iceland and Italy are known for their volcanic activity, but despite this and past experience, there are no international contingency plans and rules governing the ash levels at which aircraft can take to the skies.

In the absence of standards, governments individually set rules. Ash is still falling across Europe, but due to pressure from passengers and traders, flights have resumed. It is unclear exactly how safe conditions are. Aircraft have previously been in dangerous circumstances because of ash that stalled engines.

The disrupted travel plans, piles of rotting food and flowers, crates of electronic parts taken from cargo holds and shock to the oil industry has finally prompted action. Governments, the airline industry, aircraft manufacturers, the International Air Transport Association and scientists are being brought together by the UN to prevent a recurrence. Given that globalisation has meant that air traffic is now essential for trade, political and social activities and sport, it is a mystery that measures were not already in place.

Globalisation is about more than trade and travel. More people are living and working outside their country of birth. Nations maintain borders but are increasingly interconnected. The volcano is a timely reminder that governments need to work together better.