Boris clings onto his Willie during ash scare

I don’t think I’m the only one that’s appreciated having plane-free skies over the past few days. Just before 10pm on Tuesday, that familiar roar returned… and no doubt during Wednesday, that other familiar roar from City Airport will drift over my road again.

Grumbling about flying is something which, to an extent, can make hypocrites of us all – there are few of us that haven’t flown in recent years, after all. That said, it was funny seeing fading football giants Liverpool whine about having to go overland to Madrid for a match on Thursday – last week, I booked such a trip and I’m really looking forward to it. And unlike them, I’m not cheating and flying from Bordeaux to Madrid…

But the shock of seeing how something entirely natural can disrupt something we’ve all started to take for granted – our “right” to take off in a plane wherever we like – may have long lasting and profound effects. Whoever wins the next election is likely to face a thorny question – should airlines get state aid to see them through these turbulent times?

I was interested to read that easyJet has a big fat orange cash reserve which could see it through six months of disruption. The likes of British Airways are in a more precarious position, though, and the big airlines spent the last couple of days complaining that they should, in fact, be able to fly their planes after all. BA chief executive Willie Walsh was outspoken“We believe airlines are best positioned to assess all available information.” After all, it’s only a bit of ash, isn’t it?

Enter our wise mayor, Boris Johnson. He went onto Radio 4’s The World At One on Tuesday afternoon to argue for airline bosses. He used Twitter to promote his appearance, asking: “Have we got the balance right between risk and impact?”

“The question is, what do we mean by safety, and what level of risk is acceptable?,”
he told presenter Martha Kearney, brushing aside responses that air traffic controllers were sure that it was not safe to fly.

Which was rather interesting. In February 2009, all London’s buses were pulled off the road when the capital was blanketed in snow. Pressed on this by MPs two months later, he lost his temper and walked out, branding the proceedings as “bollocks”. So if Boris was content to trust Transport for London’s experts on bus safety, why was he not content to trust air traffic controllers on plane safety? Buses were taken off the road again last December, to which Boris simply went to ground and pretended everything was alright.

At 10pm, after British Airways had decided to send some planes towards Heathrow anyway, the airport reopened. An hour later, Boris was jubilant.

But why was opening airspace “common sense” when Boris had dismissed any criticism of his role in a similar issue as “bollocks”? Could it be because of his cosy relationship with British Airways? Here’s The Guardian on 15 September last year….

Boris Johnson will today help out British Airways’s commercial interests by speaking out against using video conferencing as a way of doing business, at a press conference in New York which he is attending courtesy of four business class tickets provided by the airline.

Ah, yes, a freebie for helping out British Airways. In return, Boris seems to be doing BA further favours, by speaking out on behalf of the airline industry on a subject I’m pretty confident he doesn’t really know very much about. Perhaps he should be concentrating his efforts on serving Londoners rather than Willie Walsh? After all, he’s paid to work for us, and not Willie – and perhaps to help ensure we have buses on the road when it snows. Just a suggestion.