Private charter operators in Europe and the Middle East have been left seething with anger over the bureaucratic muddle which worsened the financial fall-out from Iceland's volcano crisis.
While Olaf Landwehr of Hanseatic Aviation reports that operations were inhibited by the knowledge that the engine insurer would refuse to pay up if there was a problem, others focused their anger on politicians and regulators.
Christian Degouy, sales director of Switzerland's Farnair says: "The lack of leadership from European governments in handling airspace restrictions linked to the Icelandic volcano is unacceptable. The EU transport ministers needed five days to organise a conference call!
"We were expecting a management of the airspace closure/restriction process based on risk management and facts. Safety is a top priority but proper risks assessment should have been conducted to keep some corridors open. The cloud was staying between 7,000 and 11,000 metres which means that we could have flown safely above (long range) and below (regional). The EU governments simply pressed the panic button! Let's now join forces at the highest level to have a proper process/risk management in place for the next occurrence."
Mustafa Sevki Atac of Redstar Aviation says: "I believe that incompetent, slow and bureaucratic aviation authorities were the cause of the chaos. Shame!" Ugur Kocoglu of Turkish operator Kocoglu Aviation says there was severe disruption to Northern European Air Traffic but that the HEMS operator was able to minimise the effects on its operations although several technicians were grounded at various European airports.
Helica srl's Diego Plos concludes that the authorities focused on the airlines and "completely forgot all other operators. Our sector market does not have enough 'weight' to be carefully considered in any specific situation by the so-called 'authority': it is much easier for them to adopt a rule, applicable for the main aviation sector, to all operators." Nicolas Boltoukhine of Oya Helico is puzzled at the decision to stop low level VFR flights.
Jon Ingi Jonsson, md, says Icejet suffered as its aircraft were stuck in Oxford and Masterjet had long range aircraft stranded in Paris although others were outside the "disturbance zone" and were able to fly between southern Europe and the rest of the world.
Capt Stefano Santonico of Aliven srl estimates that losses could reach €300,000. He does not understand the Italian Notam's restriction of operations in the northern Italian FIR to national flights only.
Jonas Kraft, director sales and marketing ACM Air Charter, says the company's close proximity to Frankfurt enabled it to transport passengers within 90 minutes by train or limousine service to Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden and then straight on board an aircraft.
PremiAir flew almost shuttle style between London and Dublin to help stranded executives but only after undertaking its own risk analysis and conducting in-depth dialogue with the engine manufacturers on its Twin Squirrel and Sikorsky S76 fleet. PremiAir also took advice from its own in-house meteorologist.
Howard Palser reports that DragonFly was severely affected. "We have had to refuse a substantial number of requests to ferry people back to the UK who were stranded in different parts of Europe. We were pressed by brokers to fly low-level VFR but were precluded from considering this because of the potential disastrous effects of ash on jet engines."
Atlantsflug's project manager Jon G Sigurdsson says the eruptions initially had little effect on domestic flights operation in Iceland because of its location on the south coast and the prevailing northerly winds. "Fortunately we operate piston powered aircraft that are much less vulnerable to the ash contamination because air being used in the combustion process is filtered, but then again air induction filters need to be replaced and inspected more frequently."
Vitoria Henriques, gm of Heliavia says the company lost valuable business but Luton and Stansted-based Harrods Aviation reports: "Our staff have been kept extremely busy as they work with our customers to support their logistical plans, helping to arrange alternative forms of transport, finding hotels, arranging low level helicopter transfers. Our customer service teams have been busy sourcing limousines, cars, ferries and trains."
Oxford's Hangar8 says it responded to client requests providing they were safe and broke no rules while Patriot Aerospace introduced an emergency shuttle service to fly stranded passengers between Dublin, Belfast and Liverpool.
Online private charter aviation network PrivateFly.com says it was inundated with urgent requests from customers during the crisis and worked with piston operators throughout Europe. "Those stranded were able to use ground transport to make their way to smaller French airfields such as Le Touquet, from where traditional piston aircraft have flown them across the channel to local UK airports," ceo Adam Twidell reports.
Richard Evans, md of Starspeed Limited, sums up the volcano fall-out in one word: 'confusion.' Gama's Dave Edwards says safety had to come first and "the clear instructions from engine manufacturers with regards to their warranties and engine programmes have made it virtually impossible to operate and adhere to the maintenance schedule they have put in place of engine boroscope inspections post every flight."
Ammar Balkar of Elite Jets FZCO, Dubai, concludes: "It was a bitter-sweet scenario as we witnessed a sudden increase in demand of urgent charter requests to and from Europe that, unfortunately, we could not serve."
EBAN and its sister magazine Charter Broker intend to return to the issues raised in our June editions.