The ash cloud that never was: How volcanic plume over UK was only a twentieth of safe-flying limit and blunders led to ban
The Mail on Sunday can today reveal the full extent of the shambles behind the great airspace shutdown that cost the airlines £1.3 billion and left 150,000 Britons stranded - all for a supposed volcanic ash cloud that for most of the five-day flights ban was so thin it was invisible.
As the satellite images of the so-called 'aerosol index' published for the first time, right, demonstrate, the sky above Britain was totally clear of ash from Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano.
Open skies: A sequence of images taken from space showing the 'aerosol index', the concentration of particles of ash or other pollution in the atmosphere. On April 15, the Icelandic volcano plume is clearly visible as a streak of orange, or 4.0 on the scale. Scientists say that anything more than a 2.0 - shown here as yellow - could indicate ash. The maps make it clear that for most of the shutdown, ash was visible over only small parts of Britain, and on some days, there was none at all.
Inquiries by this newspaper have disclosed that:
- Attempts to measure the ash's density were hampered because the main aircraft used by the Meteorological Office for this purpose had been grounded as it was due to be repainted.
- Computers at the Met Office, which earlier forecast a 'barbecue summer' last year and a mild winter for this year, produced a stream of maps predicting the ash would cover a vast area, eventually stretching from Russia to Newfoundland. But across almost all of it, there was virtually no ash at all, and none visible to satellites.
- Though there was some ash over Britain at times during the ban, the maximum density measured by scientists was only about one twentieth of the limit that scientists, the Government, and aircraft and engine manufacturers have now decided is safe.