What has changed for aviation in dealing with volcanic ash since 2010?

There has been significant progress since 2010 on the volcanic ash and aviation front.

Overall European approach in dealing with volcanic ash

While each individual state remains responsible for deciding whether or not to impose restrictions on flights in its airspace, there has been a move towards a more harmonised approach – one which recognises that decisions to perform flights in airborne contamination (such as ash or sand), should be made by airlines, based on the conclusions of their safety risk assessment.

This approach significantly reduces the number of flights that would have to be cancelled in the event of another ash crisis.

Operational response in dealing with volcanic ash

At the request of the European Union Transport Ministers, the European Commission and EUROCONTROL established the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) in May 2010. This cell, which will fall within the activities of the new Network Manager, is responsible for coordinating the response to any crisis affecting European Aviation, such as an ash cloud.

The Crisis Coordination Cell will utilise existing communication tools such as EUROCONTROL’s successful web-based Network Operations Portal. A new tool, the European Crisis Visualization Interactive Tool for ATFCM (EVITA), has also been developed to help airspace users evaluate the effect that an ash cloud will have on their operations.

Detecting and observing the ash

Increased use of PIREPS (Pilot In Flight Reports) significantly contributes to determining where the ash is located, how high and concentrated it is. This information is essential for decision making during an ash crisis.

Volcanic Ash Crisis Exercices (VOLCEX)

One year after the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano EUROCONTROL took part in a major crisis exercise to validate changes and improvements to the volcanic ash contingency plan and procedures.

The VOLCEX exercises are organised by ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and allow a full assessment of the impact of applying updated procedures.

As part of the exercises, the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell  is activated, and the EVITA is tested. The exercises are simulations only; they have no impact on real flights.

The VOLCEX exercises are organized yearly. Each time, the exercise scenarios vary and simulate eruptions on the volcanoes in Iceland, the Açores and Italy.