Aircraft Safety Insured By IAVW After Eyjafjalla Volcano Eruption <


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Aircraft Safety Insured By IAVW After Eyjafjalla Volcano Eruption

By Mike Mitchell

April 16, 2010 - With the Eruption of Eyjafjalla Volcano in Iceland the International Airways Volcano Watch (IAVW) system is in place to ensure the safety of aircraft. The IAVW system was established by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations.

There are nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAAC) that make up IAVW, each are located around the world are responsible for coordinating and disseminating information on volcanic ash that may endanger aircraft that fly through the ash cloud formed from a volcanic eruption. The individual VAAC are run as part of national weather forecasting organizations of the country that they are based, e.g. NOAA or the Met Office.

The Irish Aviation Authority based on advice from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, restricted flights in the Irish airspace on Thursday. This will affect most ATC services at Dublin Airport.

The cause of the restrictions relates to the ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland, which is heading towards Ireland. It is not safe for aircraft to fly into volcanic dust as it can cause engines to shut down and cause electrical faults.

The volcanic ash cloud is also causing severe restriction in UK and other airspace. The situation is being closely monitored and an update will be provided later today. VAAC centers were set up in the 1990ís to improve forecasts of the locations of ash clouds from volcanic eruptions following incidents where commercial aircraft had flown through volcanic ash resulting in the loss of engine power.

British Airways Flight 9 a Boeing 747 lost power to all four engines in 1982 over Indonesia after an eruption of Mount Galunggung and KLM Flight 867 another Boeing 747 again lost power to all four engines in 1989 over Alaska after an eruption of Mount Redoubt.

It was recognized following these and other incidents that volcanic ash was a danger to commercial aviation and that the only way to ensure that there would be no loss of an aircraft was to alert pilots in a timely manner to divert their flight around the cloud.


ICAO in coordination with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), proved effective in ensuring the safety of air transport following the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjalla in Iceland on 14 April 2010. No incidents or accidents have been reported due to volcanic ash. Disruptions in air traffic, however, are being experienced in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. 

Since volcanic ash is composed of very abrasive silica materials, it can damage the airframe and flight surfaces, clog different systems, abrade cockpit windows and flame-out jet engines constituting a serious safety hazard. Volcanic ash can also have a serious effect on aerodromes located downwind of a volcanic ash plume since it contaminates runways, ground equipment and aircraft parked or taxiing around the aerodrome.

The IAVW system is designed to detect and track the movement of volcanic ash in the atmosphere and to warn aircraft in flight about this hazard. The main components of the system are comprised of nine volcanic ash advisory centers responsible for the provision of information related to areas and flight levels affected by volcanic ash and its future movement.

These centers are strategically distributed around the globe. They are Anchorage, Buenos Aires, Darwin, London, Montreal, Tokyo, Toulouse, Washington and Wellington. Another important component of the system is the role of area control centers of each State to warn aircraft in flight about the location of the volcanic ash. They work together with selected State Volcano Observatories and the corresponding MET watch offices that are tasked with disseminating the corresponding warnings which are called SIGMETs.
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