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Risk Perceptions and Trust Following the 2010 and 2011 Icelandic Volcanic Ash Crises

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

J. Richard Eiser, Amy Donovan, R. Stephen J. Sparks

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-343
Number of pages12
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number2
PublishedFeb 2015

King's Authors


Eruptions at the Icelandic volcanoes of Eyjafjallajokull (2010) and Grimsvotn (2011) produced plumes of ash posing hazards to air traffic over northern Europe. In imposing restrictions on air traffic, regulators needed to balance the dangers of accidents or aircraft damage against the cost and inconvenience to travelers and industry. Two surveys examined how members of the public viewed the necessity of the imposed restrictions and their trust in different agencies as estimators of the level of risk. Study 1 was conducted with 213 British citizens (112 males, 101 females), who completed questionnaires while waiting for flights at London City Airport during May 2012. Study 2 involved an online survey of 301 Icelandic citizens (172 males, 127 females, 2 undeclared gender) during April 2012. In both samples, there was general support for the air traffic restrictions, especially among those who gave higher estimates of the likelihood of an air accident or mishap having otherwise happened. However, in both countries, the (minority of) respondents who had personally experienced travel disruption were less convinced that these restrictions were all necessary. Scientists, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and (in Iceland) the Icelandic Department of Civil Protection were all highly trusted, and seen as erring on the side of caution in their risk estimates. Airlines were seen as more likely to underestimate any risk. We conclude that perceptions of the balance between risk and caution in judgments under uncertainty are influenced by one's own motives and those attributed to others.

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