Select Feedback I – Icelandic Volcano Black Swan

London, UK - 20th April 2010, 14:30 GMT

Dear ATCA Open & Philanthropia Friends

[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]

We are grateful to ATCA, The Philanthropia and HQR distinguished colleagues for their excellent feedback in regard to the Icelandic Volcano Black Swan. Some of the private feedback for the mi2g Intelligence Unit (mIU) and the ATCA Research and Analysis Wing (A-RAW) will be absorbed into future briefings. We have selected some ‘open’ responses from Continental Europe, UK and USA. See what you think!

Icelandic Volcano Black Swan - I

Dear DK and Friends

Re: Lessons Learned

Having taken three days to return to the UK from a trip to the Far East, via Italy, Switzerland, Germany and France, the fragility of the European airline network and jet travel generally has been found wanting. As a group, I have realised that the travelling public have become complacent and totally unused to revising plans and providing for contingencies. The sheer lack of imagination on the part of some travellers who have been used to being herded sheep like from departure to destination has contrasted remarkably with others who have ingeniously found routes and ways around the problems encountered recently. This experience more than any other has demonstrated that even in our modern 21st century times it pays enormous dividends:

1. To travel light.
2. To have a variety of currencies (or at least access thereto) to hand.
3. To remain aware of where we are at one time and of the relevant distances between cities and countries.
4. To be able to communicate effectively with strangers.
5. Never to listen to rumours but to check all "information" first hand wherever possible.
6. Not to make unreasonable demands of others or to have unreasonable expectations of others.
7. Never discount any option unless a genuinely better one exists.
8. To maintain a sense of humour.
9. To maintain a sense of proportion and
10. To be prepared to change and adjust any plans made at any time.

These have been a challenging few days, but in adversity the best shine through and I am sure many of us will be the better for this experience.

- Robert McNally, Partner, Stephenson Harwood - London, UK

Re: Lack of Coverage in US and Aviation Risk

Must say, I'm absolutely amazed at the lack of coverage on the part of the US press of the major natural disaster of the Icelandic eruption. The impact of the aviation shut down throughout Northern Europe is major for the airlines and for many other businesses dependent on travel both as providers of services and for those of us who need to travel as an integral part of our business. Having flown major jets for the US Air Force, while encountering volcanic activity was rare, we knew full well the perils to jet engines posed by volcanic dust. Volcanic dust contains, among many other ingredients, tiny rocks and glass particles. The tiny rocks act just like sandpaper and when encountered in flight can quickly cause major damage to a jet engine starting with the compressor blades at the intake of the engine. When the glass particles reach the combustion chamber of the jet engine where temperatures are very high, the particles melt and cause even further difficulties. At best the result is to have an engine stall or flame out entirely. Reigniting an engine so impacted may or may not prove possible. Volcanic dust clouds cannot be seen by either airborne or ground based radar which means pilots are totally dependent on the information provided by the weather folks that can track the probable location and altitude of such clouds based on wind patterns. There's been a great deal of speculation in the press as to whether the aviation authorities have over-reacted to the threat and it's major impact on the airlines. After all, British Air for the first time in its history has had to ground its entire fleet. But as a long time pilot, I'm not sure I want to be the one to test out the impact of flying through a volcanic plume.

- Gerald 'Jerry' Sullivan, Chairman, GJ Sullivan & Associates (The Sullivan Group) - Los Angeles, US

Re: No Unfortunate Consequences

I share your concerns. I have not seen the detailed results of the commercial airline tests but on the face of things they seem to have been conducted at less than efficient flying altitude, eg London to Cardiff. As someone who has been inconvenienced by the ban I am as keen as any to see flights resume but we seem to be selective in the 'evidence', ignoring the fighter and research plane results. Commercial expediency is in the ascendancy. I only pray that if flying does resume there are no unfortunate consequences.

- Malcolm Hayday, Chief Executive, Charity Bank - Kent, UK

Re: Long Term Impact and French Revolution

I am wondering to what extent the long-term economic and social consequences of the current eruption is being modelled. The “Laki” eruption of 1783 is supposed to have been one of the major triggers of the French Revolution [1789], and we need to consider what may be in store as the current eruption rumbles on and if Katla follows.

- Graham Vickery, Head, Information Economy Group, Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry, OECD - Paris, France

Re: Pollution Relief

If one cannot observe the presence of these ashes in our apparent clear Swiss skies, one can certainly appreciate the airplane-free skies, something unique everyone should notice and enjoy while it lasts. I wonder about the pollution-relief impact this represents for air quality and health. But who wants to talk about that? The aeronautic industry is so well protected from any pressure in that respect in comparison to the automotive for instance.

- Maxime Mitterrand, Founder and Director, Entrepreneurs Forum - Lausanne, Switzerland

Re: Outlier Event

This phenomenon is already outside anyone's expectations. Hard to forecast longer-term effects without knowing how long it is likely to go on. Will it for example lead to a curtailment of business travel and of conferences, replaced by increasingly sophisticated video conferencing arrangements perhaps in 3-D? On a more mundane note, is anyone publishing lists of the hotels which have taken advantage of people's misfortune by outrageous price increases so that one might boycott them, particularly if there were other hotels that resisted the temptation? Finally I noticed one report that the busiest air route on the planet is between Taipei and the mainland. Interesting sidelight on China-Taiwan relations and a far cry from the situation 15 years ago when I landed at Taipei to find a great crowd meeting the plane because a member of the China Politbureau was arriving to undergo a life-saving operation.

- Martin Morland, Chairman, Prospect Burma in UK; Former British Ambassador to Burma - London, UK

Re: Ash Fall

Thanks again for another in-depth post on the military jets reaction to the volcanic ash. Obviously the airlines want to keep making more money but this does seem extremely short sighted. What I would like to know is what is going to happen when the volcanic ash starts to drop on London and other cities in Europe. Will it be the equivalent of living near Ground Zero in Tribeca [Lower Manhattan, NYC] after 9/11?

- Richard Horowitz, Golden Globe Award Winning Hollywood Music Composer and Producer as well as Musician - Los Angeles, US

Re: Future's Unpredictable

“Some experts suggest that the present eruption could soon start tapering off..[while others] have warned that eruptions from Icelandic volcanic activity could last for up to a year.” …a timely warning to Western Europe’s business and political leadership that (i) looking to ‘the experts’ doesn’t always help in predicting the future because (ii) the future really is simply unpredictable. This is an excellent example that natural climates really can change very quickly. What scenarios come to mind if it did last for months or longer!

- Andrew Hopkirk, Head of Research and Development, National Computing Centre (NCC) - Manchester, UK


We welcome your thoughts, observations and views. To reflect further on this subject and others, please respond within Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn's ATCA Open and related discussion platform of HQR. Should you wish to connect directly with real time Twitter feeds, please click as appropriate:

. ATCA Open

. @G140

. mi2g Intelligence Unit

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. DK Matai

Best wishes

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