Eurocontrol prepares for volcanic ash cloud

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Eurocontrol has raised the volcanic ash alert status for European airspace to orange – defined as “heightened or escalating seismic unrest with increased potential of eruption”.

This puts member states and their air navigation service providers (ANSPs) on alert to link up with the European Aviation Crisis Co-ordination Cell (EACCC) – a system set up after the April 2010 atmospheric volcanic ash crisis.

The alert status is constantly being reviewed according to advice from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), which first put out warnings of extensive seismic activity beneath the Bárðarbunga volcano on 16 August.

This continued for several days. The latest IMO bulletin issued on 21 August, before Flight International went to press, stated: “Around 1,000 small earthquakes were detected in the Bárðarbunga region from midnight until Tuesday evening 19 August at 20:00. All of them were smaller than magnitude three, and most were located in the cluster east of Bárðarbunga.

“Events are still located at around 5-12km depths, [with] no sign of upwards migration seen so far.”

The report indicated a reduced frequency of seismic shocks compared with previous days.

The 2010 European airspace ash crisis – following the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull – revealed that the region was completely unprepared to manage aviation in the case of volcanic eruption.

The EACCC conducts exercises twice a year – the last was in April – and since its establishment, European ANSPs have been granted access to real-time ash cloud information and decision guidance via a web tool dubbed EVITA – European crisis visualisation interactive tool for air traffic flow control.

Eurocontrol emphasises it is much better prepared for a possible ash event, but warns: “Volcanic ash is still a hazard for aviation and does have the potential to cause disruption. Safety is, as ever, our primary concern.”