EU — More Precise Data and Risk Analysis to Assure that Ash did/will not Stall Aircraft Engines

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ARTICLE: How volcanoes and airplanes offer lessons for risk taking


When Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010 Eurocontrol and the relevant civil aviation authorities issued guidance which resulted in the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights. Then, “ ‘[t]he only international rule around volcanoes – in capital letters – was AVOID, AVOID, AVOID …,’ Dame Deidre Hutton, chairwoman of the British Civil Aviation Authority.”

That blanket cancellation approach caused dramatic disruption of global air transportation and the EU convened a European Risk Summit, where the regulators assessed the data and used risk-assessment procedures. As a result, they created a European Crisis Co-ordination Cell EACCC and:

  • Established that airlines would provide risk assessments in future events and that national safety authorities would made the decision on whether it was safe to fly;
  • Organized ash simulation exercises; and
  • Called for speeding up of European airspace and air traffic control integration to improve crisis response.

These tools resulted in the above chart issued by the Meteorological Office’s Volcanic Ash Advisory. The maps identify areas of ash density (high ash density areas above 4 mg ash/cubic metre), medium ash density areas (between 2-4 mg ash/ per cubic metre) and low ash density areas (below 2 mg ash/cubic metre) and in three spatial dimensions. Based on that more precise information, the risks are categorized (memo). Each airline determined the risk for their aircraft to operate in each zone, submitted their analysis to their CAA and flights were authorized.

Using that research, procedures, analytical tools and the airlines’ decisions using those tools, the most recent volcanic incident (Grimsvötn) resulted in only 500 cancellations in day #1 of the eruption as opposed to the 8,000 caused by Eyjafjallajökull.

The data and the process worked.

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