A volcanic eruption that produces ash can, in addition to direct risk for aircraft, have widespread, multi-national negative impacts on air transport of people and goods, which can lead to catastrophic economic consequences for individuals, and public and private entities. National economies are increasingly vulnerable to the negative impacts of such a disruption in air travel. This case study evaluates the policy measures and communication channels surrounding a major volcanic eruption affecting air travel. Next to that it aims to develop new partnerships and more efficient stakeholder involvement in the decision making process.
In the morning of April 15th 2010, thousands of air transport travellers around Europe were unpleasantly surprised; their flight could not take off. Airports shut down in several countries around Europe as the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland entered into eruption and emitted volcanic ash that spread across European airspace. Airspace was closed to commercial jet traffic; millions of passengers were affected over several days, causing worldwide distress and cost an estimated loss of US$ 5 billion.
Why is air traffic affected by volcanic eruption?
Volcanic ash is a major issue to aircraft. Emitted into the air, the ash can severely impact visibility for visual navigation (sandblast windscreens), damage the airplane jet engines (ash debris can melt due to the temperature of aircraft jet turbines) and potentially lead to engine failure.
With an ash plume at flight altitude spanning over Europe, many countries decided to close their airspace for safety reasons. Although politically sensitive, the downside effects of this decision led to a critical review of the EU regulation and procedure in order to improve risk management.
Beyond regulation, strengthening stakeholders cooperation
Since 2010, aircraft operators and policy-makers have reviewed the legislation and procedures, modifying the ash concentration levels and the no-flight zones (size, risk classification). ENHANCE seeks to further improve air traffic response to volcanic eruptions, by further reducing the impact of response decisions on passengers and the economy. ENHANCE aims at making the volcanic response partnerships resilient by:
• Identifying further possibilities for regulatory improvements and decision-making process;
• Refining stakeholders’ cooperation and seeking improved ways of communication;
• Studying response plans for alternative modes of transport
ENHANCE partners offer information on how to reduce downsize effects of volcano eruptions to public authorities, what in turn would positively impact businesses and the life of millions of citizens in case of a future eruption with ash emissions.
State of play
• The partnership conducted a first analysis of changes in procedures and regulations, models and inputs used in the decision process;
• Partners of the case study interviewed, amongst which representatives from the London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre VAAC, airlines and air traffic control;
• It also develops potential risk scenarios. In the coming months, case study partners:
• Intend to perform interviews with other representatives from the partnership;
• Organise a workshop to present and test scenarios to explore areas of improvement;
• Study response plan for alternative transport modes.
This case study will review current procedures for no-flight and restricted flight operations, and will assess experiences learned from Eyjafjallajokull 2010 volcanic eruption and the Vatnajokull 2011 eruption. Next to that the decision making structure will be analysed with stakeholder involvement and suggestions will be developed for partnerships, communication channel changes, and policy measure updates. Finally, a risk scenario based on a possible new large scale volcanic event (predicted to occur within the next 100 years) in Katla Volcano in Iceland will be developed.
The total time period for the ENHANCE project encompasses 48 months (month 1: December 2012). The time frame necessary to complete the deliverables within the case study is:
D1. Report: Month 12
D2. Report: Month 17
D3. Report & Database: Month 27
D4. Report: Month 36
D5. Report: Month 39
Five deliverables are formulated by the case study:
D1. Report: Risk profile case study using conceptual framework
D2. Report: Stakeholders analyses and MSP D3. Report & Database: Risk Assessment results
D4. Report: Description of MSPs and disaster resilience schemes
D5. Report: Case study synthesis and policy recommendations
Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC), Central Flow Management Unit of EUROCONTROL, The European Commission’s Directorate General for Mobility and Transport, Representatives of airlines
The ENHANCE project interviewed Uta Reichardt from the University of Iceland on risk management advances in the aviation industry.
Watch the video to find out what recommendations she has for better risk management!
Reichardt, U., G. F. Ulfarsson, and G. Pétursdóttir, 2016: Volcanic ash eruption and aviation in Europe - Analysis of stakeholder cooperation using scenarios (Öskugos og flug í Evrópu - Greining á samstarfi hagsmunaaðila með sviðsmyndum)., ...into the wind, Civil and Environmental Engineering Student Journal (In Icelandic: ...upp í vindinn, tímarit umhverfis- og byggingarverkfræðinema), University of Iceland, Vol. 35, in press.
Reichardt, U., G. F. Ulfarsson, and G. Pétursdóttir, 2015: Reducing the impact of volcanic eruption and ash on air traffic (In Icelandic: Dregið úr áhrifum eldgosa og öskufalls á flugumferð). University of Iceland Magazine (Tímarit Háskóla Íslands), University of Iceland, p. 113.