As Volcano Threatens, Eurocontrol Says It Is Better Prepared

 - August 19, 2014, 12:16 PM
As another volcano threatens to erupt in Iceland, Europe is better prepared to deal with air traffic disruptions caused by volcanic ash than it was when the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in April 2010 spewed ash across the continent.

Under threat of another volcano erupting in Iceland, Eurocontrol said it is better prepared to deal with air travel disruptions caused by volcanic ash than it was in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajökull eruption grounded flights across Europe. The agency on August 19 reported no impact to aviation from the latest warning, but said it continued to monitor the situation in its role as “network manager” responsible for network capacity planning of European Union and other member states.

On August 18, the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) raised the color code of the Bárðarbunga (Bardarbunga) volcano in central-southwest Iceland to orange, the second highest alert level, indicating that the volcano “shows heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.” The agency said its monitoring network had detected 2,600 earthquakes since the onset of an “earthquake swarm” in the Bárðarbunga caldera, an area of collapsed land, that started two days earlier. Several of the seismic events measured larger than magnitude 3 on the Richter scale.

Eurocontrol noted the heightened alert status on its website. “Europe is more prepared to deal with volcanic ash these days; we have better mechanisms in place than we did in 2010,” the agency stated. “Every year, volcanic ash exercises are conducted and we learn from them: the latest one was held in April this year.”

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in April 2010 spewed ash across Europe and caused aviation authorities to close large swaths of of the continent’s airspace for six days. The International Air Transport Association estimated that airlines lost more than $1.7 billion in revenue during the crisis. Since then, there has been “significant progress” in the European approach to volcanic ash eruptions, Eurocontrol said. The approach is more “harmonized,” or coordinated, now and “recognizes 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.”

In May 2010, Eurocontrol and the European Commission jointly formed the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell, which now falls under the umbrella of the network manager, to coordinate the response to crises in the European air-traffic management network. The cell held its first meeting in May 2011 and either meets or holds teleconferences in the event of a crisis. Eurocontrol said it also participates in yearly Volcanic Ash Crisis Exercises the International Civil Aviation Organization arranges.