Europe resumes watch for volcanic activity

The aviation alert status of the Icelandic Volcano Bardarbunga has been downgraded to code ORANGE indicating a heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.

The Icelandic volcano Bardarbunga stills shows signs of eruption which prompted European aviation authorities earlier today to raise the alert status to RED indicating that eruption was imminent with significant emission of ash into atmosphere likely.

A danger area has been declared around the volcano and the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) in London said it would produce a forecast of the likely ash behaviour every six hours. That forecast will highlight the probable location of any medium and high levels of ash density.

Based on the VAAC forecast, Eurocontrol, the European air navigation safety agency that serves as the region’s Network Manager said that in the event of the situation becoming worse, civil aviation authorities could issue their own national notices to airspace users advising them of the location of medium and high density ash areas.

“Using that information and procedures previously agreed with their safety regulator, it is the responsibility of individual airlines to decide whether they will operate and issue their flight plans accordingly,” it said.

UK air traffic control NATS said it was continuing to monitor the situation, although said that as there has still not been any volcanic activity above the surface and the size of the temporary danger area in Iceland has been reduced, it was expecting normal operations today.

“Additional oceanic flight paths have been put in place as a contingency measure and we have updated our airline and airport customers with the latest information and will continue to do so,” it said, pointing out that in cases of volcanic ash, the airline operator is now responsible for ensuring it has the correct approval to fly through areas of ash contamination. “UK airspace will remain open,” it added.

What happens if Bardarbunga erupts? Icelandic Authorities would immediately instigate a 120 nautical mile exclusion zone around the eruption – as per ICAO guidance - and the process would begin to try and understand its severity and how much ash it is expelling into the atmosphere. The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) – based at the Met Office – would then produce a forecast of the likely ash behaviour every six hours. That forecast would highlight the probable location of ‘medium’ and ‘high’ levels of ash density. Based on the VAAC forecast, the Civil Aviation Authority will then issue a NOTAM advising airspace users of the location of those medium and high density areas. Using that information and procedures previously agreed with their safety regulator, airlines would then decide whether to operate and would issue their flight plans accordingly. For those that do operate, NATS would continue to provide an air traffic service, routing aircraft around areas of ash as required, much as we do in the event of a thunderstorm. It is important to note that the decision to fly is an operational one taken by airlines in conjunction with their safety regulator. In the event of a volcanic eruption, passengers should always contact their airline as a first point of contact for the latest information.

What happens if Bardarbunga erupts?
Icelandic Authorities would immediately instigate a 120 nautical mile exclusion zone around the eruption – as per ICAO guidance – and the process would begin to try and understand its severity and how much ash it is expelling into the atmosphere.
The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) – based at the UK Met Office – would then produce a forecast of the likely ash behaviour every six hours. That forecast would highlight the probable location of ‘medium’ and ‘high’ levels of ash density.
Based on the VAAC forecast, the UK Civil Aviation Authority will then issue a NOTAM advising airspace users of the location of those medium and high density areas.
Using that information and procedures previously agreed with their safety regulator, airlines would then decide whether to operate and would issue their flight plans accordingly.
For those that do operate, NATS would continue to provide an air traffic service, routing aircraft around areas of ash as required, much as it does in the event of a thunderstorm.
It is important to note that the decision to fly is an operational one taken by airlines in conjunction with their safety regulator.
In the event of a volcanic eruption, passengers should always contact their airline as a first point of contact for the latest information. Source: NATS

Easyjet, the UK low cost carrier said the airline industry is better prepared now than in 2010, and is remaining as vigilant and well-equipped as possible, with easyJet’s AVOID (Airbourne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector) Unit which offers the ability to detect ash cloud on the ground.

It said this pioneering innovation, first unveiled in 2011 and due to be put into service in 2015, will help the aviation industry to avoid further disruption in European airspace from future volcanic activity by giving airlines the ability to navigate around ash clouds without incurring risk.

“Should there be an eruption, easyJet will work with its partners: Nicarnica, the Icelandic team in FutureVolc, the Institute of Earth Sciences in Iceland, NILU (Norwegian Institute for Air Research) and Airbus to ensure that ash from it is detected and charted from space, using infra-red cameras on European weather satellites, or through the potential airborne deployment of the AVOID technology,” it said.

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