Volcanic Ash & EU risk regulation

May 9, 2010 12:00 AM
More than twenty years after the EU eliminated its internal land borders, the Union still lacks an integrated airspace. This seems to the most immediate regulatory lesson learnt from the recent volcanic ash crisis, but of course there is much more to be said.

In the next issue of the European Journal of Risk Regulation (expected at the end of May), I will provide a first-hand analysis of the regulatory answer developed across Europe in the aftermath of the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. While reconstructing the unfolding of the events and the procedures followed by the regulators, I will attempt to address some of the questions that I have iteratively asked myself when stranded in Washington DC between April 16 and April 25, 2010. Who did the assessment of the danger of volcanic ash poses to jetliners? Who was competent to take risk management decisions, such as the controversial flight bans? Is it true that the safe level of volcanic ash was zero? How to explain the shift to a new safety threshold (of 2,000 mg/m3) five days after the event? Did regulators overacted? To what extent did they manage the perceived rather than the actual risk? At a time in which the impact of the volcanic ash cloud crisis is closely scrutinised by both public authorities and the affected industries, it seems particularly timely to establish what happened during the worst aviation crisis in European history.



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