Tuesday, April 20, 2010
$200 million per day: That's a conservative estimate of what just the airlines are losing from closure of European air space due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Note that this does not include other consequent losses to businesses that depend on an uninterrupted flow of passenger traffic or reliable shipping, problems for individuals stranded in airports, or any cascading effects that will result from those losses.
Are the government bureaucrats in charge of closing European airspace justified when they cite the dangers that flying through clouds of volcanic debris pose to jet engines? Or are they just repackaging the fallacy of the broken window as they wreak unnecessary havoc on the lives of millions of people worldwide?
Calling volcanic ash "the new swine flu panic," Simon Jenkins of The Guardian notes that, "[e]ven an airline company, with everything to lose, is not allowed to assess its own risk," and Frank Furedi of Spiked relays the following information:
Many individuals associated with the air-travel industry are perturbed by what they perceive to be a one-dimensional overreaction. Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, secretary-general of the Association of European Airlines, observed that "verification flights undertaken by several of our airlines have revealed no irregularities at all". He believes that "this confirms our requirement that other options should be deployed to determine genuine risk". Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, describes the ban as a "European embarrassment" and a "European mess". [bold added, other minor edits]Furedi's larger point is especially compelling:
[A]s a sociologist interested in the process of decision-making, it is evident to me that the reluctance to lift the ban on air traffic in Europe is motivated by worst-case thinking rather than rigorous risk assessment. Risk assessment is based on an attempt to calculate the probability of different outcomes. Worst-case thinking – these days known as "precautionary thinking" -- is based on an act of imagination. It imagines the worst-case scenario and then takes action on that basis. In the case of the Icelandic volcano, fears that particles in the ash cloud could cause aeroplane engines to shut down automatically mutated into a conclusion that this would happen. So it seems to me to be the fantasy of the worst-case scenario rather than risk assessment that underpins the current official ban on air traffic. [bold added, other minor edits]Might these man-made effects of the Eyjafjallajokull eruption be a sort of Mini-Me of global warming hysteria?
If indeed test flights have shown negligible risk of flying after this eruption, it would seem that the precautionary principle, that bastard spawn of government control of the economy and Pascal's Wager in scientific drag, is wreaking major havoc on the world's economy. Sez Jenkins:
Many more will die on roads and elsewhere because of the anarchy the air controllers have unleashed on Europe, but that is not their business. They don't care.Given the life-sustaining necessity of production and trade, this is at once unnecessary hyperbole and a gross understatement of the damage. Millions of lives are in fact being harmed by this barring-by-government-fiat of individuals from evaluating risks for themselves and then deciding whether to board -- or fly -- airplanes. Even if the body count is zero after this fiasco ends, it has cost millions of people irreplaceable fractions of their lives in the forms of time and money.
Today: Via Matt Drudge: "Air ban led by flawed computer models":
The computer models that guided decisions to impose a no-fly zone across most of Europe in recent days are based on incomplete science and limited data, according to European officials. As a result, they may have over-stated the risks to the public, needlessly grounding flights and damaging businesses.Read the whole thing.
[E]arly results of the 40-odd test flights conducted over the weekend by European airlines, such as KLM and Air France, suggested that the risk was less than the computer models had indicated.
"If you take the situation across the Atlantic, there the advice would probably be: don't fly over the volcano. Otherwise, it is up to you to take the precautions necessary," ...