Dominic Lawson draws out some perceptive conclusions about the recent volcanic ash problem for the airline industry:
Underlying all this, however, is something quite new, which, like the phrase “zero tolerance”, is from across the Atlantic. This is the idea that there is no such thing as an accident — a concept that is heaven on earth for litigators. On the basis of the so-called precautionary principle (which, if it had existed in prehistoric times, would have been bad news for the caveman who discovered fire) governments are expected to remove all possibility of risk from the field of human conduct. It was something akin to this sort of thinking that caused the British Medical Journal to state in 2001 that it would no longer use the word “accident” because even earthquakes, avalanches and volcanic eruptions were predictable events against which we could, and should, take precautions. We have just seen what happens when the authorities do have a fully fledged “precautionary” volcano safety policy. It does not survive the first encounter with reality.
The problem, alas, is that “reality” is something that many of those in power are uninterested in. As he notes, when the PP is applied to small groups – such as farmers – they lack the political and business clout to kick up a fuss. What really forced policymakers to back down on the airline travel restrictions was the fact that hundreds of thousands of travellers were faced with massive delays and thousands of businesses were affected.
I understand one blessing of the flight restrictions was that this whole kerfuffle prevented Tony Blair from playing more of a role in the election campaign. Silver linings and black clouds, etc. (Excuse the cloud pun). It would be nice to think that this globetrotting parasite could be permanently stuck in a departure lounge.