Since the 2010 volcanic ash crisis, measures have been put in place to
ensure that the UK and the aviation industry worldwide is prepared for a
similar event. If UK airspace is affected by volcanic ash, the following
arrangements now apply in UK airspace and across much of Europe.
Areas of ash will be identified using information provided by the Met
Office’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre. This is derived from the
world-leading computer model the Met Office uses and is based on, and
validated by, information from the source of the volcano, satellite images,
test flights and weather balloons, as well as ground based instrumentation
such as radar.
The model shows different density levels of ash split into low,
medium and high levels:
This information is then used by the aviation industry to help make
decisions on where it is safe to fly.
The new regime maintains high levels of safety while reducing
disruption. According to the European air traffic control body Eurocontrol,
only 900 of the 90,000 flights due to take place in Europe during the
Grimsvotn eruption (23-25 May 2011) were cancelled. Work continues to
implement one common regime worldwide and the CAA is directly involved in
driving this work in Europe and through the International Civil Aviation
Safety cases have been used by airlines for many years to set out how
they will safely deal with unusual or challenging issues. They set out the
measures that airlines will put in place to mitigate the risk of flying
through ash. They also include input from aircraft and engine
manufacturers. This is important as engine manufacturers can advise on the
levels of ash that their engines can safely cope with.
The case needs to show that the airline understands the hazard, its own
limitations and has in place robust procedures and plans to safely fly in
the unusual situation. These procedures may include extra training for
crews, additional maintenance inspections and guidance for pilots as to how
they should react to certain circumstances. The cases are put together by
the airlines and presented to their regulator (for UK operators the CAA)
The Met Office use a computer modelling system known as the NAME model
to predict where ash will be present and in what density.
The model has been widely endorsed by the international meteorological
community and has been tested and proven during previous eruptions and
events such as Chernobyl and Buncefield.
The Met Office model forecasts the presence of ash, and is informed by a
range of information including data from the source of the volcano, and
validated by satellite, specialist aircraft, weather balloons and ground
Piston engine aircraft (typically used for recreational flying) are less
affected by ash and in some cases may still operate when commercial jet
airliners are not flying.
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