Economics

Reason Writers Around Town: Air Travel and Volcanoes

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At The New York Times' Room for Debate blog, Reason co-founder Robert Poole weighs in on aviation's importance to the world economy:

The disruptions to air travel caused by a hasty overreaction to the volcano eruption in Iceland illustrate how our global economy depends on aviation.

Nearly one-third, by value, of all world trade moves by air. Components for BMW's South Carolina auto plant arrive daily by air. Summer fruit from Chile reaches our supermarkets all winter by air and flowers from Kenya reach the whole world by air via The Netherlands. Global tourism, made possible by aviation, is by some measures the world's largest industry.

Airlines lost nearly $2 billion in revenues from the European shutdown, European Union airports an additional $400 million, and air traffic control providers another $160 million.

All had a stake in reopening airspace as rapidly as possible — but they were stymied by confused and panicked government policymakers. Officials relied on generic computer models rather than sending up test planes from day one to more precisely map the ash cloud in real time.

Poole's full column.

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  1. You mean computer models don’t perfectly represent reality? Well knock me over with a feather.

  2. Officials relied on generic computer models rather than sending up test planes from day one to more precisely map the ash cloud in real time.

    1. Dear squirrel- what have you done with my comment this time, you bastard?

      again, I ask:

      What ever happened to all those whiz-bang satellites with the optics so powerful they can read your grocery list? Can’t they be used to see where the ash plume is?

      1. Naw, they were tied up scoping out the computer screens of those porno-lovin goofballs at the SEC.

        Stealth porn hunting satellite freaks…hey, that’d be a pretty cool porn movie title.

  3. Joseph Stalin on pot!!

    All you guys care about is making sure the airlines make money!!

    1. Right you are, Gerald, it’s not like anyone here cares about personal freedom (ie to travel). And certainly nobody here cares about heavy-handed, overreacting, commerce-stifling government regulations.

      And everybody here knows that once you buy an airline ticket you are forced (at gunpoint!) to board that flight even if you think it’s unsafe for some reason.

      Why don’t you run along like a good lad and troll someplace else?

      1. They’re all moderated. They have standards.

        1. And everybody here knows that once you buy an airline ticket you are forced (at gunpoint!) to board that flight even if you think it’s unsafe for some reason.

          Nobody’s forcing you at gunpoint to live underwhatever governments you choose to live under but that doesn’t stop you from bitching about them nonstop.

          1. I thought dissent was the highest form of patriotism?

          2. Classic Dan T. Good stuff.

    2. That’s ridiculous. Airlines don’t make money.

  4. All you guys care about is making sure the airlines make money!!

    That will never happen.

    Ever.

  5. Damn you Orville and Wilber!

  6. confused and panicked government policymakers…are there any other kind? oh yeah the ones who are sleeping or surfing the web for porn.

    1. damn – rick rolled again. They said the Reason girl was nekked in the new ad.

      Back to ratemymeat.com

      1. When does she get an alt-text?

  7. I suggest that Mr. Poole be volunteered to pilot the plane. I would want to stay as far away from an abrasive cloud of highly charged ash as possible.

    1. Crikey, not another one.

      Srsly, Ramsey, that’s some world-class stupid.

      I suggest that Mr. Poole be volunteered to pilot the plane.

      Sounds like you mean “forced,” but are too spineless to come out and say so. You know, of course, that coercion is highly unlibertarian.

      All Poole is asking is that passengers be allowed to make informed decisions on whether they feel its safe to fly.

      1. All Poole is asking is that passengers be allowed to make informed decisions on whether they feel its safe to fly.

        Come, that’s just flat-out stupid.

        Passengers are now supposed to be experts on flight safety?

        1. Passengers are now supposed to be experts on flight safety?

          Free individuals are ultimately responsible for their own safety.

          Let’s say they sent up test flights, and everything went fine. I’d be first in line to board, but I’d respect your right to cower fearfully on the ground until the sky was crystal clear.

          What part of personal freedom and responsibility to you just not get?

          1. “do” not “to”

          2. Uh, you just said you’d wait until “they” sent up successful test flights.

            Sounds like we’re both cowards.

            Maybe you should volunteer to be the test pilot next time there is a volcano. If you crash, we’ll know to wait a while.

        2. I am Dan T.

      2. World class stupid seems a bit harsh. There were no bans on air travel during volcanic eruptions in the past, and planes crashed because of it. I am not suggesting that any risk is too much, but the reason those computer models were developed were to spare pilots the need to fly in dangerous ash clouds.

        Cost for a computer model to crash: $0

        Cost for a pilot to make a miscalculation and crash : Aircraft $1million, pilot $5million.

        Instead of calling out governments for not sending up pilots why not ask the pilots how they feel about flying in uncertain skies, instead of the bean counters at corporate HQ.

        This was a good case of risk management.

        1. Not if you’re using a risk register, which factors in the impact to revenue and earnings.

        2. Oh noes! Someone spoke harshly to you!

          Hate Crime, Hate Crime!

          [W]hy not ask the pilots how they feel about flying in uncertain skies?

          Unlike you, who was oh-so-eager to “volunteer” Poole to pilot a plane which he (statistically) isn’t trained to pilot, which means a pointless suicide mission.

          Nobody would be forcing the airline pilots to fly, so inherently they are being asked. So if no pilots thought it would safe enough to fly, they’d have the last veto.

          Anticipating libtard whines about Teh Evul Corporashuns(tm), my understanding is that commercial airline pilots have a strong union, so could refuse to fly in conditions they felt were unsafe without fear of reprisal.

          1. Oh, well then fuck off and die in a fire.

            You contribute nothing but personal attacks, and you convey those attacks with the zeal and skill of a third grade asshole.

            I hope the libtards put you in a detention facility. I’ll be out here enjoying a free market.

        3. No, planes did not crash because of earlier eruptions. There were cases where the engines stalled, and were restarted after several very scary minutes of rapid descent, but no crashes of commercial flights because of volcanic ash that I have heard of.

          1. From Patrick Smith’s “Ask the Pilot” column at Salon.

            Total engine loss is about as probable as a flight attendant volunteering to give you a shoeshine, though it has happened several times since the 1970s:

            Southern Airways Flight 242 (1977). Severe hail and water ingestion. Fatalities: 72
            United Flight 173 (1978). Crew error and fuel starvation. Fatalities: 10
            British Airways Flight 009 (1982). Volcanic ash. Fatalities: 0
            Air Canada Flight 143 (1983). Human error and fuel starvation. Fatalities: 0
            TACA Flight 110 (1988). Severe rain ingestion. Fatalities: 0
            KLM Flight 867 (1989). Volcanic ash. Fatalities: 0
            Varig Flight 254 (1989). Crew error and fuel starvation. Fatalities: 13
            SAS Flight 751 (1991). Severe ice ingestion. Fatalities: 0
            Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 (1996). Hijacking and fuel starvation. Fatalities: 125
            Hapag-Lloyd Flight 3378 (2000). Crew error, mechanical problem. Fatalities: 0
            Air Transat Flight 236 (2001). Mechanical problem and fuel starvation. Fatalities: 0
            British Airways Flight 38 (2008) Mechanical problem. Fatalities: 0
            US Airways Flight 1549 (2009). Multiple bird strike. Fatalities: 0

            . . . .

            British Airways Flight 009 was one of those two aforementioned 747s to lose all four of its engines. It happened in 1982 after an encounter with an unforecast ash cloud from Indonesia’s Mount Galunggung. The crew managed to restart three of the engines, then pulled off a nighttime, non-precision localizer approach into Jakarta even though visibility through the windscreen was almost nil. The 747’s cockpit windows do not open. Capt. Eric Moody, in one of aviation’s all-time greatest quotes, described the landing as, “a bit like negotiating one’s way up a badger’s arse.”

  8. Fuck highly subsidized and regulated commercial aviation.

    1. One of the few things Kennedy supported and spearheaded that made sense was airline deregulation.

      1. Ted Kennedy that is.

        1. I also like the idea of airliners flying around with no rules. I’m sure it would all work out, and if something happened, then hey, nobody forced those passengers to get on the plane!

          1. You know, a lot of those rules were just anticompetetive bullshit, things like what markets an airline was allowed to serve, schedules, routes, financial crap. Deregulation didn’t make all of it go away, but it helped. Air travel security would work just fine if it was market based.

          2. Odds of dying in plane crash.

            Not very likely. Airlines don’t make money with dead passengers.

        2. That’s because he flew a 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88. They’re inherently safe. Even more so than a Volvo.

  9. Of course, if those “confused and panicked” government officials had sent up “test planes”, you’d all be complaining that they wasted money on them when they could have just used computer models.

    I feel for you guys, though. It’s tough being perfect and having to live among mere mortals.

    1. Of course, I can only imagine the whining and hand-wringing from certain quarters about the danger to the pilots of those planes, regardless of whether the pilots were volunteers.

      Oh noes! Risk.

      Dan, you’re welcome to live your life in fear and cowardice, but leave the rest of us to boldly go…

      1. God damn infinitive splitter.

      2. Tonio with the Niven reference. Sweet.

        Also, I suggest that you not waste your time arguing with Dan, since he essentially takes a devil’s advocate/contrarian position at all times. He has no interest in actual debate.

        1. I would say that the devil’s advocate adds more to the debate that the forced conformity the rest of you guys exhibit.

          1. Dishonesty is never valuable.

        2. Thanks, Epi, for both the compliment and the prudent advice.

  10. But it’s clear that all of global aviation can learn from Alaska Airlines’ pioneering approach to evidence-based procedures on when and where it is safe to fly following volcanic eruptions.

    In short, the Iceland volcano eruption was a global wake-up call to aviation, which was caught unprepared. But the good news is that we know how to do much better going forward.

    But, but, but… Surely the safety gurus at the FAA took the lead in all of this. Air commerce would be non-exostent without our wise beneficent federal overlords ensuring everything is done according to the book.

    Evil profit mongering corporations can’t be trusted to make safe and sane decisions about their own 250 million dollar aircraft. Everybody knows that.

    1. Maybe we should bring back some of the old piston engine planes. Since a piston engine can use an air filter, while a turbine (turbojet, turbofan, turboprop) engine cannot, perhaps they could fly through the ash clouds?

      1. Sand-blasted glass has a lovely white appearance due to scattering light making it impossible to see through. A lovely idea for a window in your bathroom; less so for cockpit windows.

      2. When your air filter plugs up, your engine ain’t gonna run anymore.

    2. Good point, J sub D. Along those lines, let’s get rid of all traffic laws because people can be trusted to make safe and sane decisions with their cars.

      Brilliant. You guys have an answer for everything.

      1. Actually they have tried that in Europe and had very good results.

        http://www.spiegel.de/internat…..47,00.html

        1. Dan Tee, pwn’d yet again.

          Dan Tee, “Thank you, libertarians. May I have another?”

        2. Don’t confuse him with facts, John. The obsequious, government credulous mindset can’t handle it.

          1. Come on, John. A few sleepy towns removing a few road signs is hardly and indication that traffic anarchy would work in a large city. If nothing else, it would be kind of silly to have large intersections with no stop lights, so all cars have to sit there and try to figure out who is going to go next.

            Sometimes, reality just does not fit your ideology, no matter how badly you want it.

            1. Been in Moscow — Seen it happen

            2. I know it’s pointless . . .

              Dan, my good friend, if roads where built by private enterprise, do you really think someone would make two major, multi-lane road intersect without providing traffic control of some sort?

              1. There are no traffic laws in Moscow? Are you talking about the Russian Moscow?

                1. In the mid-90s they were ignored. Just like in most 3rd world capitals.

                  1. So you want our cities to more closely resemble third-world cities?

                    I appreciate your honesty but I’m not I am willing to support that notion.

                    1. You made a fundamentally unsound assumptiton that streets would be laid out the way they are now if society self organized from the bottom up instead of being planned by the government top down.

                    2. That is true. It would be very interesting to see how the streets would laid out if everybody just built their own on their own property with no coordination between them and anybody else.

                    3. no coordination between them and anybody else.

                      Self-organizing Dan; say it with me: SELF FUCKING ORGANIZING.

                      It really does happen in the real world.

                    4. Why wouldn’t they coordinate, Dan? You are fundamentally unable to grasp the idea that people cooperate voluntarily in their self interest without being told to by some external authority.

                    5. Isn’t democratically elected government just that? Who is the “external authority” we currently are subjected to?

                    6. People build private developments and business parks with roads all the time. The government just comes in later to see if they can find a way to tax them while providing unneeded “services.” It’s amazing those interested parties aren’t crashing their vehicles into each other every day.

                    7. Democracy is other people forcing you to cooperate.

                    8. If I owned the road/intersections there’d be roundabouts everywhere. No need to waste money and charge more for energy wasting traffic lights. And my consumers would likely be happier that they weren’t wasting gas sitting at lights.

                      But, you’re right. Government planning is always more efficient because you assume it is so.

                    9. If you owned all the roads, that would just make you the government.

                      As much as you guys hate popular government, I can’t imagine you’d find dictatorship much better.

                    10. If I owned the land and put roads on it, and sold usage to consumers, that would make me a businessman, not a government. You don’t want to drive here, you’re free to take the long way around, douchenozzle.

                    11. Well, that’s equally true of public roads – if you don’t like ’em, you’re free to not drive on them.

                      Now, you’re correct that if you only own one road then you’re not really a government entity, but even then what happens when somebody comes to the end of your road? Then they gotta pay again at the next guy’s?

                      Come on, man. It would be absurd to have to get permission from hundreds of road owners just to drive across town. Plus it would mean that people without much money would literally be captive on their own property.

                    12. You’re assuming that the only alternative to government roads is for profit roads. You fail to realize that without government subsidized roads, businesses would have an incentive to provide FREE access to their property. We already see this in the form of privately owned parking lots and connecting driveways. Furthermore, if the market had to pay the true upfront cost of road maintenance, towns would have undoubtedly grown in a more centralized manner to make highway use more efficient, as well as other market based transportation methods such as commuter rail lines being more economical and profitable.

    3. Evil profit mongering corporations can’t be trusted to make safe and sane decisions about their own 250 million dollar aircraft. Everybody knows that.

      Mwah ha ha! I’ve done the math. Putting a $250 million plane at risk, and taking a chance on having to pay billions in tort claims means nothing compared to all the shiny nickles I’ll collect by sending passengers to die! DIE! DIE ! DIE!

      And I would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for that meddling Dan T.!!

      1. In Libertopia, there would be no “tort claims”. Personal responsibility, you know?

        1. That’s just bullshit, you fucking Shit Facktory.

        2. That’s just bullshit, you fucking Shit Facktory.

        3. Flat out wrong Dan, and you know. Tort law — assigning damages where one actor harms another — is a foundation principle in libertopia.

          1. Correct. In fact, even many of the environmental issues that supposedly require government intervention could likely be handled under nuisance litigation. In other words, you could sue Iceland for its untamed volcano.

            1. So who do we sue for global warming?

              1. God

                Or you can just wait for the next ice age and bitch about that instead.

                1. I forgot, when ideology and science clash libertarians always stick with ideology.

                  1. You brought up ideology first.

              2. Everybody sues everybody else, and it all comes out even.

                1. Almost right, Zeb. Everything comes out even for everyone but the attorneys. They come out with friggin’ bags of cash.

              3. Who do we sue for global warming? Easy. The Chinese.

            2. I think we should kick Iceland in the NUTS

  11. I used to think that public subsidized transportation might be the only thing that could be considered to have a so called “multiplier” effect on the market. Now I am convinced that government policies throughout history- controlled land settlement, railroad land grants, public highways, subsidized aviation, business/competition regulation in all transportation industries, obnoxious safety/environmental regulation, energy subsidies, urban planning, zoning laws, and even manipulation of the housing market have all combined to create a horribly inefficient transportation situation and land use disaster.

  12. Clearly, the solution to this problem is a fleet of mighty zeppelins.

    1. Or the libertarian answer: sell the sky to a corporation.

      1. Skynet?

    2. Ocean liners, too.

  13. Officials relied on generic computer models rather than sending up test planes from day one to more precisely map the ash cloud in real time.

    That’s what they get for contracting out to University of East Anglia for their atmospheric models.

  14. You mean computer models don’t perfectly represent reality? Well knock me over with a feather.

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