I hope no planes fall from the sky. And yet I think:
The pressure to get those planes in the air is unsafe; it is motivated by business interests and the giant neoliberal push over the last 20 years means that there is no one in a position to stand up for consumer safety in a meaningful way (meaning they have the power/authority to intervene).
Here’s why I am freaked out:
1. My good friend and fellow blogger, Bob Nelson, is in Germany trying to get home. I need him if I ever want to finish my next book. Plus I love his kids . . . but let’s not go too far down this road.
2. Every business/airline that sends test flights into the ash reports no damage but every military or government test shows some engine damage. Read all about it here.
3. The plane manufacturers recommendation for acceptable particulate level for jets flying through is ZERO (the flight safety foundation concurs (opens as PDF) and so does the USGS (opens as PDF) and the airline industry group EIN.
4. We actually have had some planes unavoidably fly through DIFFUSE ash clouds in the not too distant past. This ash cloud is not diffuse. Here is what happens.
So basically, the hot engines suck in ash which is made of sand and glass. It melts and then clogs the tiny cooling holes. Engines overheat, stop working, and the plane plummets to the earth. BUT if the pilot reduces throttle (the opposite recommendation from normal power loss) until the plane drops oh say 10,000 feet and then he guns the engines, the cold fresh air MIGHT break the glass and the plane could keep flying.
So why is this appropriate for a Legal Studies blog? Well, maybe it isn’t but I had to get this off my chest. But I think it is because here you have the CLASSIC model of business in trouble (through no fault of their own — I mean really, what is a more convincing “act of God” than a volcano?). You have regulators with less power as the EU has consolidated it has definitely taken on a more “free market” mentality to encourage business; regulators and regulations have less bite than they used to (though more than in the US) and you have pretty much every piece of empirical data I can find which says this is a no-brainer — you don’t fly through ash clouds if you can help it.
I don’t think business people making these decisions are evil (let me be clear). I think they are not the proper neutral party to make the safety determination because they are facing a boat load of pressure from the people that the law has set them up to be responsible to (shareholders primarily though also customers).
So I am just sayin’ – here we are in a situation where you really want some top scientists, pilots, etc etc making the safest decision for everyone but that system is not in place because we have deferred regulation to business (here and in Europe). And the regulatory authorities that do exist and have called for these cancellations can resist for about 5 days before business goes on. And I hope it is safe, but I am skeptical.