Monthly Archives: May 2010

Current Airline Situation: Where is the Volcanic Ash Cloud now?

The biggest news in April 2010 that the air-space over UK and several other European countries was closed due to the fears that volcanic ash cloud from Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland can damage the airplanes, I got this news one fine Monday morning while going towards tube escalators that due to volcanic ash the airports are closed and passengers are advised to contact their airlines before leaving home. I never thought what could be the consequences of it, apparently the airspace remained closed for several days, caused airline industry millions of dollar damage and misery to the passengers who were caught oversees with no funds in their wallets.

Eyjafjallajokull Volcanic Ash Cloud

Well that is nature, I being a big supporter of nature and most of the time in-peace with whatever nature do with us, it always has a reason. Several of my friends marked it as the end of earth as there were couple of earth quacks in the world around the eruption as well but sadly what they forgot was when millions of years ago when earth was in it’s early stages,  the seismic activity was far frequent and was at a much larger scale. In fact today we make movies about the Ice Age is coming due to global warming etc. while we had an Ice Age before when likes of were not even on earth!  The only difference now is, we see every bit of this live on our television screens and our airspace get closed because of this and then in our comfortable routine lives, we think, oh that’s bizarre, no for me it’s not!

Well this disruption which this ash cloud is causing and will continue to cause for several days, holiday industry will be the one who will suffer most  this summer. I know this because I planned to go out traveling on next bank holiday weekend which is from 29th May to 31st May. Due to this cloud, I looked at euro-star website, even before good 3 weeks the prices were already near £86 one way for Paris. I had been to Paris last summer, that’s a wonderful city but can’t give that much money to just to be there again. After considering several options, I am now booked with Ryan Air for Stockholm. The ticket was cheap but now I am not sure whether I will be able to fly or should I have a plan B ready in case of disruption.
As I am now tracking this ash cloud from several days (since I booked my ticket), I now know that it all depends on the winds, the big ocean currents which rule the weather of earth. This ash cloud will be there for several months but it will keep on swaying itself. As UK is nearest to Iceland, the most disruptions will be caused here but again depends on the direction of wind. Stockholm again is not very far away.
As the ash cloud today again caused some airports to shut down for couple of days in south-east England which has the most busiest airports in UK, the MET office UK which is also acting as the main outlet to hand-out ash cloud predictions have decided to list next 5-days predictions of cloud direction on their website instead of only 18 hours.
So here are the charts for next 5 day prediction of volcanic ash cloud on MET Office UK Website. If you are like me, going out soon, booked your ticket and now praying that this cloud do not come on your way, you need to keep an eye on the cloud, we have the science to predict but do not have the science to control it. It’s nature at work!

UPDATE:  There is no ash cloud from several years in a row but British Govt. or European Union has done little in recent years to stop this happening again. London Heathrow is a major travel hub with hundreds of flights going from UK to Anywhere, if they stop, a major financial hub of the world get stuck in the middle. London to New York is major travel route for busy city executives, it’s important more than ever to devise protocols to keep planes operating in all sorts of environments!

PIA: Pakistan International Airlines Pilot refused to fly from New York to Lahore

I would like to clarify it first that I am a very loyal customer of PIA (Pakistan International Airlines), the reasons of this I will explain later in this blog. First, I would like to talk about a tiny news appeared in the 2nd May, 2010 Jang Newspaper which reported that pilot of PIA flight PK-712 refused to take the plane back to Lahore from New York because of non-availability of the rest cabin for the crew. Here is the snapshot of that news:

Snapshot of news appeared in Jang May 2nd, 2010

According to the newspaper, the flight leaves New York at 5:30am and in alternate crew, there is always a pilot and first officer which rest for first 8 hours of flight and take charge of the plane for the next 8 hours. I have checked the flight duration on PIA’s website and it is almost 16 hours. The requirement of alternate cock-pit crew is compulsory due to international safety standards.

PALPA (Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association) took this matter to the international authority about 5 days before this incident. Newspaper further told that the administration of Airline is thinking of operating the flight with a stop in Manchester on the way-back, so the cock-pit crew can be changed at Manchester Airport.

Later that day, I read on the Newspaper’s latest news that PIA has denied the fact that the pilot has refused to fly any flight and this flight will leave New York at its due time.

As a frequent air traveler and a avid fan of Discovery’s Air Crash Investigations, I got worried after reading this news. This was a very small news in the inside pages but I know exactly how this can be the cause of a very big news if a crash happened just due to this. National flag carrier has 9 Boeing-777 airplanes including Boeing-777LR and holds the record for longest commercial jet flight in aviation industry. The airplanes are made for long range flights specifically and were bought to cater for Toronto, Chicago and New York flights basically. However, while it gives you a great flexibility of operating at longer routes, it gives you a great responsibility of handling the flight safely without any break on the way.

The New York flight takes a break in Manchester on it’s way from Lahore to New York while on the return it come as a direct flight and takes about 16 hours. I am sure that while ordering an airline can ask for any modifications in the plane seating-wise and I am sure the original design would have a rest cabin included with the airplane as the airplane was intended for long-haul flights and I am sure again that PIA would have asked to remove the cabin to increase seating capacity.

PIA-777ER at runway

What makes me worried is a tired pilot who remain seated for first 8 hours of the flight and then he would be flying the plane back to the safety of airport for the next 8 hours. Everyone in airline industry know what a tired pilot flying an aircraft means, a flight in danger of a clash if anything goes wrong, obviously if the pilot is tired, his capability of handling potential hazards would be very low than a fresh pilot. We have seen many airliners crashing in bad weather, low visibility areas or in case of engine failures because either the pilot or first officer was tired and they missed the steps to handle the hazard.

Recently, another news in the same newspaper I read was about the maintenance of these multi-million dollar airplanes (Boeing-777) because the hanger for these airplanes were not made at the home of PIA (Pakistan International Airlines), the Karachi Airport. As of this reason, PIA is already not maintaining these airplanes properly and at times the flights are getting delayed due to security reasons in flying a faulty aircraft.

PIA has recently reported a surge in it’s operating profit which remained about Rs.5 billion in the past year. However, if you are not maintaining the safety standards and stretching your crew to get profit, that is a very risky bet, if in-case an aircraft got crashed due to these reasons, the airline would not only lose it’s multi-million dollar investment in the aircraft but also hundreds of lives along with a bad name for the airline.

I am a frequent flyer with PIA and always choose this airline whenever I go back  home. The reasons behind why I always choose this airline are not that it is a great airline to fly with or they are very hospitable (steward never reply the call, I always have to go to the kitchen myself to drink water), the PIA tickets are not cheap if compared to other airline’s fares and they are not that great in flying according to schedule (flights are often late). The reasons are, number one you get a direct flight from London to Lahore, you are in Pakistan in 8 hours, you do not need to change planes etc. If you take Emirates or Etihad or any other airline, obviously they stop at their home airports en-route. Second reason is much emotional, when you are traveling with PIA, the time when you get to your departure gate, you feel yourself as you are in Pakistan because the passengers and crew will be of your country and that makes you more happy, while coming back until you don’t leave the exit gate of heathrow airport, you again feel yourself at home, within your own people. Other than this, in-flight meals are just OK, the floors are dirty and because mostly it’s Boeing-777 which operates at heathrow route as well, the LCD screens for entertainment on the back of seats are starting to pose problems as well. It never happened with me yet but the passengers sitting beside me, normally their in-flight entertainment system will not work and they will keep on complaining and stewards will keep on saying that I am looking at the problem and nothing will happen. Obviously the airline is not taking care of it’s assets and it’s name.

PIA is our national flag carrier and despite of the fact that I am concerned with the safety of it’s airplanes and other factors, I will keep on flying with this airline as for the reasons I stated above. However, the airline itself need to give itself some fact-check and see what can happen if they keep on ignoring it’s crew and the maintenance of it’s aircraft.

Update 24/02/2014: PIA is the only airline now which flies direct from UK to Pakistan. Airblue was in competition and was even trying to expand it’s presence by offering Manchester to Lahore flight alongside existing Manchester to Islamabad route but reportedly due to some problems with availability of aircrafts, Airblue decided to pull out from the UK market. As a result, PIA seats are selling quickly due to ageing immigrant community who only want to travel direct. There are still some ways to get cheap flights to Pakistan through PIA and other airlines such as Emirates, Qatar, Etihad and Turkish airline but if you want to fly direct, it would be better to book your flight at least 3 months in advance.

Get Adobe Flash player