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The European Regulatory Response to the Volcanic Ash Crisis between Fragmentation and Integration

European Journal of Risk Regulation, Vol. 2, 2010

12 Pages Posted: 19 May 2010  

Date Written: May 18, 2010


More than twenty years after the EU eliminated its internal land borders, the Union still lacks an integrated airspace. This seems to be the most immediate regulatory lesson of the recent volcanic ash crisis. In this brief report, I will provide a first-hand analysis of the regulatory answer developed across Europe in the aftermath of the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. While reconstructing the unfolding of the events and the procedures followed by the regulators, I will attempt to address some of the questions that I have repeatedly asked myself when stranded in Washington DC between 16 and 25 April 2010. Who did the assessment of the hazard posed by volcanic ash to jetliners? Who was competent to take risk management decisions, such as the controversial flight bans? Is it true that the safe level of volcanic ash was zero? How to explain the shift to a new safety threshold (of 2,000 mg/m3) only five days after the event? Did regulators overact? To what extent did they manage the perceived risk rather than the actual one? At a time when the impact of the volcanic ash cloud crisis is being closely scrutinised by both public authorities and the affected industries, it seems particularly timely to establish what happened during the worst aviation crisis in European history. This report was written one week after the event and relied on a limited number of sources available by 30 April 2010.

Keywords: Risk Regulation, EU law, Precationary principle, Volcanic ash, Emergency Regulation, Eurocontrol, EASA, Single European Sky, Air Traffic Management, Worst-case scenarios

JEL Classification: K3, K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Alemanno, Alberto, The European Regulatory Response to the Volcanic Ash Crisis between Fragmentation and Integration (May 18, 2010). European Journal of Risk Regulation, Vol. 2, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Alberto Alemanno (Contact Author)

HEC Paris ( email )

1 rue de la Libération
Jouy-en-Josas Cedex, 78351

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