Grounding European Flights from Icelandic Volcano Eruption was the right thing to do


Eyjafjallajökul causing Air Travel Disruption in April 2010

Remember last year when a volcano in Iceland succeeded in effectively shutting down all air traffic in Europe for days? Well, despite the only evidence filtering down to most of the continent being slightly prettier sunsets, a new study suggests that grounding all flights had been the right thing to do.

Some areas in Europe were restricted from air travel for months and travel companies stated serious objections about the supposed threat caused. However,  shortly after the eruption started, Susan Stipp of the University of Copenhagen arranged the collection of samples of ash from several distances away from the volcano over the days of disruption.

The ash released in the first few days of the eruption so it happens contained ‘unusually high levels of particles smaller than 300 micrometres across’. In other words, the particles were most likely to become trapped in jet engines and melt, causing the engines to stall. The particles were also hard and sharp, making them more likely to sandblast aircraft windows.

The conclusion of the analysis suggests that Europe was right to ground all air travel. But Fred Prata, from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research in Kjeller also states that,  the sort of real-time measurements Stipp carried out could make it possible to keep some airspace open, with planes steered into corridors away from the worst of the ash.

Such real time tests could give within 24 hours a reliable indication of the risk that an ash cloud could cause aircraft. Some airlines have taken their own measures, Easyjet have already installed AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector) on most of its aircraft; a sort of Weather radar for ash. So rest assured if this happens again in the future, real time readings or not, the CAA and EASA will still be subject to objections from travel companies.

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