Friday, April 16, 2010

Eyjafjallajökull - Disrupting the Interconnected World

On April 15, 2010, a volcano under the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland erupted. Strong winds pushed the ash cloud towards mainland Europe. Immediately thereafter, the European airspace was closed to prevent a mid-air mishap.
I was reminded of an article I read in the Reader's Digest almost 20 years back about a KLM flight over Alaska flew straight into a cloud of volcanic ash. The ash blacked out the cockpit windows and forced a shutdown of the four massive engines.
The plane had to flown as a glider for quite a distance till it glided out of the cloud. The pilots managed to restart the engines and landed safely in Anchorage.
I immediately checked out Wikipedia about the incident and found a page dedicated to the KLM Flight 867 incident.
On that page, I found a reference to another similar incident, the Speedbird 9 incident involving a British Airways flight flight from Heathrow to Auckland, with stops in Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth, and Melbourne.
This flight also ran into a volcanic ash cloud over Indonesian airspace and had an emergency landing at Jakarta.
Luckily both incidents passed by without any fatalities. The experience of the pilots and sheer luck came in handy.
But things can go wrong.
It was indeed a very good decision to shutdown the European airspace to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.
But undoubtedly this would burn a hole in the finances of airlines. British Airways would become Bloody Awful again and closer home, God knows what would happen to Jet Airways which has over 60% of its revenues from international routes.
What amazes me is that such an incident still has the incredible potential to disrupt the increasingly interlinked world.

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