A fiasco of volcanic proportions? Eyjafjallajökull and the closure of European airspace

The unprecedented and recurrent closure of much of UK and northern European airspace from 14 April 2010, following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano, caused the cancellation of 108,000 flights, disrupted the travel plans of 10.5 million passengers, and cost the airline industry in excess of $1.7bn in lost revenue (Eurocontrol, 2010). The airspace closures highlighted the inherent riskiness of aviation and destabilised dominant cultural discourses of the ‘superiority’ and capability of aviation technology. It also brought issues of risk acceptability and our socio-economic reliance on air travel into sharp relief. This paper explores how the political and media framing of the response to the airspace closures as a human ‘policy fiasco’ served to obfuscate the inherent dangers of aviation and ‘get Europe flying’ again. Thus, this paper contends that this particular fiasco was ‘necessary’ in that it served to highlight the fragility of air travel and the vulnerabilities of the mobile citizen.