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11 years after the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull

Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupting

EUROCONTROL, the European Commission and members of the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell examine the improvements made for air traffic

Together with the European Commission and representatives of the EUROCONTROL Member States and the aviation sector, the EUROCONTROL Network Manager today examined the simulated operational impact of a volcanic disruption.

Modelled on the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, the simulation found that were the eruption to happen today under similar conditions, the impact would be less severe due to a more tailored approach, an improved level of coordination and cooperation and technological progress.

“While in 2010 the ash cloud led to some 104,000 flights being cancelled, a similar situation today is estimated to lead to only half the number of cancelled flights - up to 50,000 - with an equally reduced economic impact for airlines, airports, ground handlers and air navigation service providers. This is a clear indication that the collaborative efforts delivered by EUROCONTROL in close cooperation with the European Commission, Member States and the aviation community pays off and leaves us better prepared for any crisis.”

Because ash is dangerous for plane engines, and safety is paramount, the simulation found that were the crisis to happen today, 3.6 million passengers would still face obstacles to take their flights. However, this figure also marks an improvement on the almost 8 million passengers that were stranded in 2010. Back then, the economic loss for the aviation sector was estimated at EUR 2.7 billion. Today it is estimated that by being better prepared, EUR 1.5 billion could be saved overall, significantly reducing the financial loss of airlines, airports, ground handlers and passengers.

“I am very pleased to note and it is equally very encouraging that we have drawn lessons from the events in 2010 and are now better equipped to tackle a crisis of this nature. We also need to learn from other crises such as the ongoing pandemic, and continue efforts to strengthen our resilience to emerging threats, such as cyber. The Commission is also working on a contingency plan for transport, which should provide further support to this work. Stranded passengers is only one example where a holistic transport approach is needed to ensure the complementarity of different transport modes.”

Henrik Hololei Director General for Mobility and Transport European Commission

The European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell: a success story of pan-European collaboration

The European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) is an instrument set up in the wake of the 2010 events to ensure better co-ordination of activities at Union level. Since the EACCC was set up, various improvements have been made. Before 2010, the guidance was that if there was any risk of ash being present, then the airspace should be closed. Today, the vast majority of EUROCONTROL Member States follow the so-called Safety Risk Assessment method that envisages to keep national airspaces open, leaving the decision to fly to the airlines. Air traffic control follows matching procedures for this method, and experts can predict more accurately ash dispersion over much smaller airspace due to better prediction models, satellite, ground and pilot observations.

EUROCONTROL has improved the Network Manager’s tools that support aviation actors in their decision-making during critical events. One such example is EVITA - a graphical tool fed by data from Toulouse/London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres (VAAC) that can show not only predicted ash in airspace but also is able to display pilot reports based on in-flight observations and consequently help operational stakeholders take an informed decision on their flight planning. Airports are also set to benefit from ongoing work of the EUROCONTROL Network Manager: with the Airport Corner Crisis Management, improved data collection possibilities will contribute to a better understanding of the air traffic diversion and stranded passenger handling capabilities of airlines.

ICAO VOLCEX 21 exercise feeds into EACCC workshop today

Today’s workshop looked at the procedures, regulations and the tools in place in 2010 and compared them with the situation today to raise awareness and understanding for current procedures and rules. Workshop participants also profited from the outcome of yesterday’s ICAO VOLCEX exercise: with strong support from the EUROCONTROL Network Manager’s crisis management team, yesterday’s exercise assumed a busy week of summer air traffic, and looked at the peak day of the simulated eruption with modelling forecasting that the ash cloud would impact airspace over the UK, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Russia.

Background

As a consequence of the severe impact of the 2010 volcanic ash cloud, the European Commission formally established in 2011 the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) – a body capable of coordinating the response to crises affecting aviation and the EUROCONTROL Network Manager was tasked to support its proper functioning. In particular, it was necessary to be able to respond at a political level, in addition to the operational level.

Co-chaired by the European Commission and EUROCONTROL, the EACCC was initially formed on 19th May 2010 due to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and its impact on air traffic. The EACCC is made up of representatives from the European Commission, EUROCONTROL, the Member State holding the presidency of the European Council, EASA, air navigation service providers (ANSPs), airports, airlines and the military. Since its creation, the EACCC has been formally activated on four occasions: during the eruption of Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn, the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the 2016 Brussels terrorist attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic the EACCC monitored the epidemiological situation and its effect on air traffic in all EUROCONTROL Member States, produced 38 factsheets and organised 29 EACCC teleconferences in cooperation with all partners.

The EACCC meets regularly. It conducts annual exercises on a number of scenarios, in addition to participating in, and reviewing the results of, the annual ICAO VOLCEX – an exercise on the response to a volcanic eruption affecting Europe.

Why can ash be dangerous

Volcanic Ash is defined as very small solid particles ejected from a volcano during an eruption. During a volcanic eruption, huge quantities of material can be ejected into the atmosphere, reaching great height and remaining a threat to aviation for several months. Volcanic ash accumulates at higher altitudes in clouds, which then drift with the wind. The ash does not show up on aircraft weather radar or ATC radars because of the small size of the particles. Volcanic ash risks to damage engines when the silicates in the ash melt and fuse onto the high pressure turbine vanes, potentially leading to a flame out. Ash particles carry electrical charges and, within a cloud of volcanic ash, this can give rise to thunder and lightning in the area immediately overhead the eruption.