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Better news, I hope.

Still stranded in Tokyo, but we've got a hotel roof over our heads and, more importantly, a rescheduled departure time (six days late). And more to the point, Air France are re-opening some routes into Paris CDG (the hub we're due to fly through). There's no guarantee that our new flight will actually take off, and we may end up stuck in Paris for a while, or be forced to catch the train (a euphemism for a minor logistical nightmare if you're aiming for Edinburgh — three hours from Paris to London, then change stations, and the thick end of five more hours to get home), but at least we're not in limbo any more.

And I'm pleased to announce that my novella "Palimpsest" and short story collection "Wireless" are both finalists in the Locus Reader Awards for 2010.

EDIT: And because we're stuck in Tokyo, we'll be drinking in Popeye tonight from 7pm (directions in the earlier post, Beer, Tokyo).

49 Comments

1:

If it is any consolation, just think how long the trip would take someone 100 years ago. :)

2:

Best of luck getting home Charlie
Regards
Rex

3:

Good luck getting home. At least you were stuck someplace interesting (albeit expensive as hell) -- one time I was facing the prospect of being stuck for three days in Minneapolis. In a snow storm. Along with many, many other grumpy travelers. Fortunately, I was able to head back home rather than spend the night at the airport, although I did have to forfeit my ticket and reschedule my trip several weeks later.

4:

Head east instead. I'm sure you could set up some last-minute things in the States as you're passing through.

5:

I'm kind of sad I wasn't in Edinburgh (instead of home, in Miami) when the volcano hit, so have fun in Japan!

6:

It might not have been necessary to close things to the extent that's been done. Cliff Mass is a research meteorologist at University of Washington, and has some experience with volcanos at similar latitudes (little climate impact) from Mt. St. Helens. He's also doubtful that winds aloft and the amount of ejecta constitute as widespread a threat to aviation as the closures would indicate.

7:

Arghh! Forgot the URL:
http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2010/04/eyjafjallajokull-iceland-volcano-and.html

Sorry about that. Things are a bit busy here.

8:

Mt. St. Helens blew out sideways, and didn't have a glacier on top. It was a very different sort of eruption.

9:
a euphemism for a minor logistical nightmare if you're aiming for Edinburgh — three hours from Paris to London, then change stations, and the thick end of five more hours to get home
I still fondly remember that exact trip a few years ago. One of the very few occasions you still have in europe to sleep on a train (the London - Edimburgh part). With so many high-speed lines, it's almost impossible in France nowadays; there's a few international lines where you still can do so.

Of course, that was to go on holiday, not coming back. Coming back, we did by day.

10:

I was supposed to leave Tokyo for a holiday in Scotland on Saturday, needless to say I am similarly stuck here! So I'll see you in the pub...

11:

@9: There are some national night-trains still left in Europe. Sweden still has regular night-trains going Göteborg/Stockholm-Luleå-Kiruna-Narvik, and some other lines. Norway also has several night-train lines.

12:

Come on now Charlie, I'll bet you're hoping for a Dunkirk style trip back over the Channel courtesy of Ark Royal. Pray for ash.

13:

Completely unrelated to woe - I see that John Scalzi has a copy of the Fuller Memorandum on his mat. And seems to agree with the world in general that the Laundry series should be made into some form of moving picture entertainment.

But back to origins - have a good flight back. I was supposed to be in Munich right now, but flights were cancelled thanks to damn nature. How I curse thee you mother...

14:

At least the station change is St.Pancas to Kings Cross now, which is a huge improvement on Waterloo to Kings Cross.

15:

Greg, if he thinks internal combustion engines can deal better with volcanic ash than jet engines, he doesn't know much about IC engines. (a) dust can clog the air intake filters, and (b) air is used to repressurize aircraft fuel tanks as they empty: dust therefore gets into the fuel and can end up clogging up the fuel injectors. Also (c) piston-powered prop planes can't easily fly above the ash clouds. None of which is good.

... Although I wouldn't mind having a chance to fly on a Bristol Brabazon, were one available!

16:

then change stations

By crossing the street. In my London, Eurostars stop at St. Pancras.

17:

I try to get the Caledonian Sleeper when I want to travel from London to Inverness and back --- it's by far the most civilised way to travel, beating the hell out of the nightmare that is modern air travel, and if you book in advance it's frequently cheaper. Plus you get a cabin (okay, you have to share), and the haggis in the restaurant car is both reasonably priced and disturbingly good. It leaves at about 2100 and gets you to your destination before business hours the next day.

Of course, my last trip, down from Inverness, was the day after the Carrbridge derailment at Christmas. That was exciting...

18:

I'd imagine you've got lots of other options (Von Clements et al), but I offer sofa-space / bandwidth / luggage support if you find yourself stuck in London for an extended period.

19:

Oh crap, I wish I could make it to Tokyo, I'd buy you more than a pint or two just to thank you for writing the laundry books.

Why don't you go to Kyoto tomorrow? Or Thursday or Friday? It's a beautiful city, and a grateful fan would be there on his anniversary trip to say hi!

20:

Came back from Brussels by Eurostar on Sunday late afternoon and was surprised to see many empty seats ... Honestly thought it'd be full full full!

Maybe everyone heading for London is going to Paris for the connection, which may make Brussels a better bet?

21:

Dave Bell @8, Charlie @ 15.

I lived in Washington at the time of the St. Helens eruption, and outside of the immediate vicinity, it was all about the winds. I was ~90 miles to the NNW, and just once did I find a light dusting of ash on my car upon leaving work. And it was a black car. But I knew people to the east, in Yakima, where day turned to night, etc. They got 5-6 inches of ash. Think heavy snow that doesn't melt, and is abrasive as hell.

Dave, I was talking about St. Helens more in terms of climate, not air travel. I'm not certain what the glacier has to do with the discussion, in either case. The St. Helens summit was largely glaciers, and I would expect glaciers to mitigate ash effects, insofar as they have any effect at all. As far as St. Helens blowing out to the side, the current event seems to have had a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 3, and produced an eruption column reaching perhaps 6 kM. St. Helens had a VEI of 5, and the column went to 24.4 kM.

Charlie, anyone living in Washington at the time knows something about the effects of ash on IC engines. Many have first-hand experience. Again, it's all about winds. There's a URL burried in my original link (it's not hyperlinked) to http://pluie.atmos.washington.edu/movies/msh_sm.wmv. A couple of scientists got into a light plane and filmed the eruption--staying out of the ash cloud. That video is worth a watch, BTW.

The thing is, the 1980 St. Helens eruption didn't shut down air travel to this extent, while putting far more material into the stratosphere, and no planes fell from the sky. I *think* that EU authorities may have overreacted. I could certainly be wrong.

22:

Here are some ideas if you are stranded in Paris by David Lebovitz. He does a food-centric blog, so you might try some of these ideas if you are into, you know, eating and stuff, and end up stuck in the city of lights.

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2010/04/10_things_to_do_stuck_stranded_in_paris_france.html

23:

Since you are there for 6 days, get out of Tokyo and take a trip somewhere! :D Japan has an excellent train travel network.

24:

The problem with train travel within Japan is that (a) it's not free, and (b) while Air France have rebooked us on a flight leaving 6 days later than planned, there's no guarantee that it will depart on schedule or that we won't subsequently get stranded somewhere short of Edinburgh.

I'm waiting subject to the entirely-random whim of a volcano, and it would be foolhardy to spend my emergency travel fund prematurely.

25:

Reminds me of a summer I spent in Tokyo as a perpetually-nearly-broke student. I stretched my budget by eating pan-no-mimi (bread ears) spread with a thin veneer of Nutella. In the early 90s at least, Japanese customers didn't like to buy bread heels, so bakeries cut them off and mostly threw them away. I could get huge bags of fresh bread heels for very little money. Not the most nutricious but it kept me going.

I was very lucky to have some Japanese friends who showed me how to enjoy their country without spending a lot. They took me on a lot of long walks around Tokyo, just walking around and looking at things. I especially remember the neighborhood around Asakusa, walking along Edogawa (Edo River), and an epic expedition from Otemachi to Ueno, ending up at the secret subway station in Ueno Park. Except for food and train tickets it was all free. Helps to have a map.

Of course, this isn't as fun if you just want to go home and crash. Hope you get a flight soon...

26:

Charlie, I've been following your travel saga with great interest; it makes for a lovely vicarious microcosm of this whole mess. (I'm safely ensconced in California, and the only travel I have planned in the near future is within the US.)

Very glad to hear that things are moving along soon; hope you get home without too much trouble or financial damage. Wish I could be there to help with your drinking.

That said, I do hope you get at least a story idea out of the experience, so the time isn't entirely wasted. I'd love to see Bob Howard stuck in an airport for a few days.

b.

27:
Greg, if he thinks internal combustion engines can deal better with volcanic ash than jet engines, he doesn't know much about IC engines. (a) dust can clog the air intake filters, and (b) air is used to repressurize aircraft fuel tanks as they empty: dust therefore gets into the fuel and can end up clogging up the fuel injectors. Also (c) piston-powered prop planes can't easily fly above the ash clouds. None of which is good.

I've not heard about this before with regards to Nuclear Winter or a massive meteor strike, but certainly the same would apply there as well, right? So, not only does it get very, very cold, but you don't have the IC engine as a tool when you go to reboot your collapsed polities.

28:

Yay! Me too, I hope - stuck in Boston since Sunday and while Boston is very nice, I really wanted to see my son before he heads back to university and help 't'wife' clear the kitchen before the builders come in. All signs look good for a Friday departure, icelandic gods willing. Meanwhile, today I took in the glass flowers at Harvard's Museum of Natural History which were truly amazing. Maybe I should take in a Red Sox game now that I've moved to a (cheaper) hotel overlooking Fenway park ...

29:

UK airspace has now been reopened. So hopefully your rebooked flight will leave on time and you will be back here soon.

30:

Congrats on the finalists in the Locus poll!

31:

Good luck with your return. I came to the US for a 4-day conference, due to fly back on Sunday afternoon (last Sunday). As of today we are being told by the airline that the chances are we will be here till 5th of May!

32:

If I'm reading the online Ghibli Museum ticketing system right, they aren't selling out $FSCKLOAD in advance anymore -- you could drop by your local Lawson branch and pick up same-day tickets, even.

33:

I did the Ghibli museum last time we were here. While I like the product, I'm not a big enough fan to want to go back right now.

The flight ban appears to have been lifted, but it's still going to take a few days for airline operations to resume their normal tempo -- lots of planes and crew stranded out of position, huge disruption to airport operations, and new pre- and post-flight checks required for all aircraft operating in the vicinity of the ash cloud. However, I think it's now okay for me to hope to be home on [revised] schedule, next Tuesday ... although I'm going to take care of my cash flow, just in case.

34:

Does this mean Australia is still a go?

35:

Craig: I really don't know at this point. (Because I'm not home, haven't seen the damage to my wallet contents, and also have to get some windows repaired when I get home; life goes on.)

36:

Scentofviolets, there's some differences in the tech used on the ground and in the air, and some work-rounds. I've worked with IC engines in very dusty conditions. You do more air-filter maintenance. You have fuel filters, and they need replacing more often. You don't have a pressurised fuel tank, and you have a sediment bowl in the fuel system that collects some of the crud, both particulate and condensed water.

You could possibly make a big enough centrifugal pre-cleaner for a gas turbine to reduce the ash-particle load, but those things take in huge quantities of air. For an agricultural diesel, they're of managable size.

But the sort of dust I had to deal with was much coarser than the sort of fust floating around at aviation-important altitudes. That makes a difference too.

37:

I've seen some really amazing numbers for how much ash a large aircraft powerplant would ingest per hour - apparently the cloud was sampled as being up to 2000ppm ash concentration. The one that nearly did for a NASA DC-8 was 600ppm. Based on that, I've seen estimates of several tonnes of ash being scarfed up into the engines every hour, just because the air-mass flow through the engine is so enormous. Even if 99.9% of it goes straight through without touching the sides, we're looking at potentially tens of kilos of material being deposited.

Of course, an alternative powerplant would need to kick out at least as much thrust as the jet it replaced. As the thrust is the reaction to an equal and opposite action, it's going to have to churn similar amounts of air. An internal-combustion engine wouldn't pass all of it through the cylinder heads, but then again a turbofan doesn't pass all the air it takes in through the combustion chambers. Assuming you've got to move a similar amount of air, you'll need to burn a volume of fuel to do so given by the efficiency with which you move air. As a turbine is the most efficient prime mover for a heat engine, you're certain to need to burn more fuel in an ICE than you would in a gas turbine, which means you'll need more air to burn it with.

So as long as you're trying to push something the size of a B747 through the stratosphere, you'll need to pump 747-sized volumes of air through the engines, and if the air contains 600ppm of volcanic ash, you'll need to get rid of tons of ash per hour.

38:

Of course, there's a simple answer to this. Fly nuclear, and all you have to worry about is the abrasion!

39:

I've done some research into this as well. When KLM-867 flew through the plume of Mt. Redoubt(*), there were about 2g of ash per cubic meter air. At 250m/s, this translates to 2 kg ash per second that the engine had to deal with.

Astonishingly, it managed to do this for all of a minute before flaming out - and once out of the ash, it could be restarted.

As far as I could find out, the concentrations we're dealing with in Germany are in the area of 100 micrograms per cubic meter or less. (Which comes down to 0.1 g/s or 360g of ash per hour.)

I don't see how this could result in immediate engine failure without warning, the way it did at Mt. Redoubt or the Galunggung - *if* engines are closely monitored and additional maintenance is done. (Additional costs should also be enough to make airlines fly no more than the bare minimum.)

(*) In an amazing display of human stupidity of both him and the Anchorage ground crew, he did so in daylight, knowing it was ash, about 90 minutes after the *third* eruption of Mt. Redoubt that day ... Flying around the eastern side of Mt. Redoubt would have taken no more than an extra hour. The plane came from across the arctic, it should have had enough of a reserve.

40:

The other "if" is, of course, if the 100mg per m3 of ash is evenly distributed.

41:

Numbers: the Met Office recorded 0.3mg of ash per m3 over Stranraer. The Rolls-Royce RB211-535E4 has an intake mass flow of 1,177lb/sec (533.87kg/sec). A cubic metre of air is about 1.2kg at sea level*, so that's 444.89m3 of air a second, or 0.133g/sec of ash = 478.8 grams of volcanic ash an hour.

Happy with chucking half a kilo of high-grade grinding powder into the engine combustion chambers? not me.

*If the ash is at the same concentration at altitude the numbers are much worse. mass 533.87kg/density 0.5328 for FL200 = 1,002m3 of air, 0.30g/sec, 1.08kg/engine-hour of ash. That implies that the ash is more concentrated at altitude, of course, but it does seem to be the case from the research flights that it's mostly at medium altitude (5000-15000ft).

42:

Good luck, Charlie. But if you will write comic novels about chthonic powers how do you expect them to react? I am now waiting for Waterstones to get my copy of The Trade of Queens in, presumably they don't send them by boat.

Photos of actual volcanic glasses on jet turbine blade from this very ash cloud in a Finnish fighter engine here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8629609.stm For all those still arguing about how puny the ash is - I think having to replace the working parts of the engine is something the airlines would like to avoid, even if the planes don't crash instantly.

Did you know that if you break a small mercury thermometer on a plane you will be liable for the cost of replacement of the entire plane? It is in the small print. The mercury forms an amalgam that can move through the plane unpredictably - making the aluminium components (like the fuselage) unreliable.

43:

I've also just estimated that I am, currently, inhaling about 3 grams of Iceland a day. Strange, I have had a cold for several days.

44:

> I think having to replace the working parts of the engine is something the airlines would like to avoid, even if the planes don't crash instantly.

That's exactly what I think. Let them fly if they want to, but make sure they keep up the maintenance. If engines wear down too fast, they'll fly less, because it costs too much.

Markets work, sometimes(*).

(*) In this case, they won't work if it is in any way possible for the Airlines to skip inspections and maintenance. Nothing works unless the rules are enforced.

45:

Well, I can SEE some planes flying over me in London, now, but a lot fewer than usual.
It's going to take several days for the systems to sort themselves out:
Planes in wrong place, crews in wrong place, crew-rostering out of kilter, plane maintenance schedules screwed, etc.....

Incidentally, I noticed that my greenhouse had a fine layer of dust on top, more than one would expect - probably a small amount of Iceland!

Still, it looks as though you'll be able to get home soon. And even if it "spouts" again, if the wind-directions are more normal, with the plume being carried away to the NW of Iceland, then flying into Europe should be feasible.

46:

I'm always slightly boggled by the weird combination of ultra-high tech and sheer 1930s anachronism that makes up aviation technology. No fuel filters? For real? And people have to trust their lives to these engines? It's as if having basically invented the the modern combustion engine (both piston and turbine), the aviation industry stopped dead in its tracks and only changed what they absolutely had to.

Or is that just me? :)

47:

No fuel filters? For real? And people have to trust their lives to these engines?

Given the last 20+ years of commercial aviation, the existing approach to fuel filtering appears to me to be a good trade-off in risks vs weight.

48:

Alternatively, you could argue that it's an example of their being locked in a culture of extremely rigorous procedures (to keep the fuel clean, in this case) that fails to respond to unforeseen challenges. Like the air at high altitude not being perfectly clean, and their machinery not being designed to cope.

49:

Fuel filtering is more important for IC engines with injectors than for carburretor-based systems.

WW2, the Merlin engine normally wasn't fitted with an air filter: on the "tropicalised" Hurricane and Spitfire used in North Africa--the dust of the desert--the filtering did reduce aircraft performance.

What I've picked up over the years is that aircraft do take precautions against water condensing in the fuel tanks. I don't know about particulate filtering.

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