Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and its domestic rival Norwegian Air are among the carriers suffering huge losses on the near total disruption of air travel in Europe. Norwegian’s boss doesn’t think it’s as dangerous to fly as the authorities claim.
Bjørn Kjos, a pilot himself who’s known for being an outspoken and gutsy airline chief in Norway, thinks his carrier and others should be allowed to fly as long as skies are clear and visibility good.
He claims Norwegian authorities have closed air space and airports without having conducted examinations to see whether there actually is dangerous volcanic ash debris in the air.
“Flying into a volcanic cloud is life-threatening,” he told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) over the weekend. “But as long as the skies are clear, it’s not dangerous.”
The weather in southern Norway has been generally sunny with clear blue skies since the volcanic crisis began last week. That has made it extra frustrating for both the airlines and travelers to understand how such air traffic disruption can occur.
Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa has repeatedly stated that “life and health are priority number one,” and when international authorities agree that Iceland’s volcano threatens air travel, Norwegian authorities will respect that, she said.
Meanwhile, Kjos’ airline, SAS, and all the others are watching losses mount as flights are cancelled and aircraft are grounded. SAS has been reeling from financial problems for years, and this is the last thing the airline needed at a time when it’s trying to recapitalize and reorganize. Norwegian has logged profits, but now sees them evaporating.
Both airlines are warning they’ll be forced to lay off employees if the disruption continues much longer. Civil aviation authority Avinor boss Sverre Quale said Avinor is prepared for lawsuits after it closed air space over Norway, but is trying to stay in line with existing aviation rules.