The Volcanic Sham

I don't know about you, but I'm starting to think that this was all just a sham:

Dutch airline KLM carried out a test flight Saturday night and detected "no problems" from the volcanic ash that has shut down air travel across much of Europe for the past four days, the airline announced Sunday.

"At first glance there is no reason to suspect that anything is amiss. We observed no irregularities either during the flight or during the initial inspection on the ground," said KLM president and CEO Peter Hartman, who was on the flight.

"Technical inspection conducted after yesterday's flight revealed that no problems had been encountered and that the quality of the atmosphere is in order," the airline said in a statement.

It's planning nine more test flights for Sunday, it said.

Amsterdam's Schiphol airport in the Netherlands is one of the busiest airports in Europe.

Saturday's test involved a Boeing 737-800 flying at an altitude of 41,000 feet (13,000 meters), the maximum altitude for the aircraft.

The first test flight Sunday departed from Dusseldorf, Germany, about 6:30 local time (12:30 a.m. ET).

Now, that's not to say that there aren't very good safety reasons for not flying when there has been a massive discharge of volcanic ash into the sky; what troubles me is that there have been many eruptions since the advent of jet travel, and there hasn't ever been a travel interruption anywhere near as bad or as long as this one. 

In 2004, there was a massive Icelandic volcano eruption, but I can't really find evidence that it caused 17,000 flight cancellations. What's different about this eruption? What's different from the eruptions in Italy on Mt. Etna? How many flights did that cancel? Was this eruption just that much greater in scope and magnitude?

Here is my other question. Was this all just a sham so that the European airlines could shut down for a week and take a badly needed holiday from their daily operating costs? If you think in terms of the makeup flights, yes, the airlines have a backlog of flights. If you think in terms of the post-Easter holiday disruption, it affects business travelers a great deal more than tourists. The airlines are likely refunding a lot of money, but they're also not spending as much on fuel, maintenance, or salaries if they are giving furloughs to workers.