Volcanic ash crisis exercise for aviation in Europe, 13-14 April 2011

One year on from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano EUROCONTROL is taking part in a in a major crisis exercise to validate changes and improvements to the volcanic ash contingency plan and procedures.This exercise, which will take place on 13 and 14 April 2011, is known as "VOLCEX 11/01". It is organised by ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Discover the what, who and why of this exercise.

What will happen during the volcanic ash crisis exercise?

The exercise will simulate the eruption of the Grimsvötn volcano in Iceland which results in a volcanic ash cloud spreading south across the North Atlantic and across European airspace.

On the first day of the exercise, States will ask EUROCONTROL to open, close or restrict their airspace to aircraft on the basis of their currently applicable national procedures.

On the second day of the exercise, a new harmonised European approach will be tested. This approach is in line with draft guidance material from ICAO's ‘Management of Flight Operations with Known or Forecast Volcanic Cloud Contamination’ which has been developed since April 2010 and allows airlines to decide if they will fly in areas contaminated by ash, on the basis of a safety risk assessment accepted by the relevant national supervisory authority.

Following on from the exercise, in early June there will be a Europe-wide assessment session to debrief on lessons-learnt and to agree follow-up actions.

Who is participating in the volcanic ash crisis exercise?

In addition to EUROCONTROL the exercise will involve:

  • over 70 airlines,
  • 14 air navigation service providers,
  • 10 national regulatory authorities,
  • the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre London (VAAC),
  • the European Commission, and
  • EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Why is the volcanic ash crisis exercise being organised?

The exercise will allow a full assessment of the impact of applying updated procedures in the ICAO Volcanic Ash Contingency Procedures ICAO Doc 009.

As part of the exercise, the newly-created European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) will be activated, and a new tool produced by EUROCONTROL, the European Crisis Visualization Interactive Tool for ATFCM (EVITA) will be tested. The exercise will be a simulation only; there will be no impact on real flights.

According to Brian Flynn, Chief Network Operations, EUROCONTROL will look at the exercise at system level. "One of the issues is how we find out how local coordination fits in with international efforts. Although the executive decision making responsibility will always be under the control of national authorities, it will be important to establish where the dividing line between responsibilities lies."

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