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The Caterer

Safety first … if you can afford it

06 May 2010
Safety first … if you can afford it

Peter Hancock, chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels, says the aviation authorities had nothing to lose by grounding all flights, but commercial organisations tend to have tougher choices to make.

My family was among those unavoidably detained in the Canaries when National Air Traffic Services decided to shut down all flights to and from the UK in case lumps of volcanic ash broke the jet engines that should have borne us home.

Our enforced extra week, though pleasant, was a huge inconvenience and the uncertainty as to when we would get back took much of the shine off our costly extended stay. No sympathy expected, of course.

Ironically, this made me miss the "Enjoy England" awards in Brighton which I had been looking forward to. Domestic tourism has been the saviour of our industry of late, not least for the members of Pride of Britain Hotels who have worked hard to upgrade their offering to UK residents looking for luxurious short breaks. I have no doubt that this recent disruption to air travel will encourage people to take even more of their holiday entitlement within Britain over the next year or two, myself included.

It would be wrong to lay too much criticism on the airlines, who had no choice but to cancel everything until given the go ahead. Even our Government made some effort to help those stranded on mainland Europe. No, my beef is with the aviation authorities who are so risk-averse they closed airspace for days on end, even after successful test flights had proved there was no serious danger.

These organisations have nothing to lose by putting "safety first" and would rather see businesses suffer vast losses than risk their own reputation for assiduous caution. This unwillingness to take risks can be found in virtually all government departments and quangos, whose members are insulated from commercial reality by state funding. Compare this with the wealth-creating entrepreneurs, without whom there would be no jobs or tax revenue at all, who take a chance every time they plough borrowed money into developing their businesses. Nobody can guarantee success any more than they can eliminate all risk in life.

It won't be volcanic ash that deters us from flying over the next few months. It will be the dread of being stranded far from home under a clear blue sky.

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