Lauda may sue Eurocontrol over ‘gut decision’

Austrian experts are at odds over whether officials reacted correctly to the eruption of an Icelandic volcano, while FlyNiki boss Niki Lauda considers suing aviation safety organisation Eurocontrol.Fritz Pachowsky, aviation engineering lecturer at Vienna’s Technical University (TU), said today (Mon): “Shutting down the whole European airspace for several days is like sending someone with a cough into intensive care.”Franz Heitmeir of the Graz Technical University disagreed. “The sketchy situation as far as what we know about the dust cloud’s effects justified the careful handling,” he said.Heitmeir argued it was best to “take the safe path if in doubt, especially in aviation where calls for high safety standards are made all the time.”Pachowsky meanwhile claimed last week’s dust concentration above Europe posed “practically no danger” to planes.The scientist said some engines would need to be replaced sooner if airplanes fly through a dust cloud such as the one caused by the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, also known as Eyjafjoll, last Wednesday.”But there would have been no immediate effect. More serious problems would only occur if a plane flies straight over an ash-spitting volcanic cone,” he added.The cancellation of thousands of flights from Thursday caused chaos all over the continent. The Austrian airspace was shutdown Friday night before it was opened for full operation at 5am this morning.Markus Pohanka, a spokesman for domestic aviation authority Austro Control, said: “We garner more information with every landing plane.”Pohanka stressed Austro Control was permanently monitoring the situation, adding he expected the airspace to remain open.Lauda meanwhile launched a scathing attack on European authorities over how the matter was handled.The three-time Formula One champion, who now heads budget carrier FlyNiki, said today: “The total shutdown of European airspace is the biggest mistake in the history of aviation. It was a totally exaggerated gut decision not based on any facts.”Lauda appealed to European aviation officials to take Austria as an example of where authorities put the decision over whether to restart operations into the hands of the companies.”I flew straight threw the cloud between Vienna and Salzburg for two hours yesterday. There were – as expected – no complications or damages whatsoever,” Lauda – who flies scheduled FlyNiki flights regularly – said.Lauda said aviation chiefs should take Sicilian volcano Mount Etna as an example.”This is a very active volcano, and the [nearby] airport of Catania has been operating without any problems,” he said.Lauda said his firm had suffered losses of between eight and 10 million Euros due to the Europe-wide lockdown on aviation business.The FlyNiki CEO revealed his firm’s lawyers were currently checking the possibilities and chances of legal action against European air traffic safety institution Eurocontrol.Some may claim Lauda’s statements today are somewhat contradictory after he warned of the effects volcano ashes could have on planes.Speaking on TV Thursday night, he said: “Volcano ashes can ground a plane. The situation is extremely dangerous, and cancelling flights is the only way to avoid a disaster. Planes simply cannot fly through ash clouds.”He said crystals and small rocks the massive volcanic ash cloud would have the “effect of sand paper”, while the ash itself clogs planes’ lines and electric connections. He added there was no technical solution as of now.”Airlines suffer insane losses because of the many cancellations, but it would be just stupid to ignore the existing dangers. Passengers should stay patient,” Lauda added.Austrian Railways (ÖBB) meanwhile said they were selling an additional 10,000 tickets everyday after increasing the number of connections on Friday.ÖBB spokesman Thomas Berger said the firm’s occupancy rate was “almost 100 per cent” at the moment.”Vienna’s western station Westbahnhof has developed into a leading hub in European train services since Friday,” he said, adding that Salzburg had become immensely important too due to the many trains going to Germany via the station.Austria’s leading supermarket chains today reassured customers the events of the past few days posed no danger to its produce.Market leaders Rewe Group – which includes Billa, Penny Markt, Merkur and other chains – and rivals Spar Austria said they would not run out of tropical fruits like bananas, oranges and pineapples since most of it is shipped to Europe.The Austrian Foreign Ministry meanwhile said hundreds of Austrians have contacted them since last week from around the world to ask for advice in returning home from business trips and holidays. A spokesman stressed that no “emergency cases” were among those who got in touch.The world-famous Vienna Philharmonic had to cancel a concert appearance in Luxembourg last weekend.Three travellers who got stuck in Brussels meanwhile arrived in Vienna today – by taxi.The cab driver said: “They decided to hire my services than to take a plane here. The drive took around 12 hours. It cost them 2,000 Euros – and I need some sleep now.”