Aerospace International talks to the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic Airways, STEVE RIDGWAY, CBE, about volcanic ash, the rise of airline alliances and his carrier’s green mission.

This is an excerpt from an article published in Aerospace International: June 2010
AI: How has the volcanic ash affected your business? How much do you expect you might have lost?
SR: The six day closure was terrible and then we had about 40,000 stranded passengers, so there was a massive effort to get them back. And one of the problems we got is now because we are all subject to EC 261, all the [European] compensation legislation, it’s very difficult to offload all your booked passengers to bring back repatriated passengers. We were juggling with who we got on the planes when to try and manage the situation and not have our inventory system go into complete meltdown. It happened to a lot of airlines — we had people with 18 bookings because they were trying to get back on any day. So what we did, (and obviously our flights were pretty full anyway after Easter and our fleet was very fully deployed), we were able to squeeze some extra flying out of our own aircraft and we also sub-chartered quite a lot of aircraft as well. We had particular build-up of passengers in places like Las Vegas, the Caribbean and Orlando. We had 12,000 people in Orlando to get back. I tell you the team and the guys did the most fantastic job. We ran our emergency procedures group, our ‘Amber Group’ for about ten days and did a really really good job.

Aerospace International Contents - June 2010

  • Aerospace News 4
  • News Roundup 5
  • News focus 11
  • The wonder of jets 12 Mark King of R-R on engine technology
  • Playing the game 16 Wargames training at RAF Cranwell
  • Plane Speaking 18 Steve Ridgway of Virgin Atlantic
  • Welcome to the iPlane 22 Connectivity is the airline cabin buzzword
  • CTT heads for the big time 25 Why passengers are set to feel less tired
  • Cold Lake hot shots 26 AI visits Canada’s largest fighter base
  • Singing in the rain 30 EBACE business aviation show report
  • The last word 34 Keith Hayward on ash cloud financial impact
So we actually got everybody back in just under a week from the resumption of flying, which was a pretty good effort really. We had to inhibit forward sales and stuff like that, right up to the end of April. So it had a very big cost in terms of disruption, lost revenue and all this EC 261 compensation. We don’t know the number at the moment but it’s probably of the order of £50m even for a company our size. As we know now it never should have happened. There were terrible decisions made. There was a lack of consultation. They didn’t come to the airline experts who could have advised them that we fly round and near volcanoes all the time. AI: So will you be seeking compensation for the closure of airspace and disruption? SR: Most definitely. We have been making strenuous efforts both through Brussels via the AEA (Association of European Airlines) and in the country as well, as it never should have  happened. AI: What lessons did Virgin learn from this experience in terms of crisis management? SR: I think actually our emergency procedures group and our special circumstances group are really good and we use them a lot. If we get any disruption of any sort we activate them and they are just really really good at what they do, understanding the issues, planning from top to bottom, what needs to happen from a commercial point of view, from a operational point of view, our duty of care to our staff as well as of course, our passengers.

Royal Aeronautical Society
9 June 2010