Airlines Participate In ICAO Volcanic Ash Crisis Exercise


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Airlines Participate In ICAO Volcanic Ash Crisis Exercise

By Steve Hall

April 14, 2011 - One year from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano the EC, EUROCONTROL, and EASA are participating in a major ICAO crisis exercise to validate changes and improvements to the volcanic ash contingency plan and procedures. 

The 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull are a timeline of volcanic events at Eyjafjöll in Iceland which, although relatively small for volcanic eruptions, caused enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe over an initial period of six days in April 2010.

Additional localized disruption continued into May 2010. The eruption was declared officially over in October 2010, when snow on the glacier did not melt.

Beginning on 14 April 2010, the eruption entered a second phase and created an ash cloud that led to the closure of most of Europe's IFR airspace from 15 until 20 April 2010. Consequently, a very high proportion of flights within, to, and from Europe were cancelled, creating the highest level of air travel disruption since the Second World War.

The second phase of the eruption started on 14 April 2010 and resulted in an estimated 250 million cubic meters (330,000,000 cu yd) (¼ km3) of ejected tephra. The ash plume rose to a height of approximately 9 kilometers (30,000 ft), which rates the explosive power of the eruption as a 4 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. 

The exercise began yesterday and will continue today and will involve over 70 airlines, 14 air navigation service providers, 10 national regulatory authorities, the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre London (VAAC), as well as the European Commission, EASA and EUROCONTROL. 

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 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 simulation only and there will be no impact on real flights. 

The exercise began the simulation of an 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.


Today’s exercise, a new harmonized European approach will be tested. This approach is in line with draft guidance material from ICAO ‘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.


The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is the centerpiece of the European Union's strategy for aviation safety. Their mission is to promote and achieve the highest common standards of safety and environmental protection in civil aviation. Based in Cologne, the Agency currently employs more than 500 experts and administrators from all over Europe.

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