ICAO Exercise Shows Better Readiness for Ash Cloud

EUROCONTROL, 77 airlines, and 10 regulatory authorities participated in the April 13-14 simulation conducted to show whether European aviation is better prepared for a major volcanic eruption in Iceland.

A large International Civil Aviation Organization exercise conducted April 13-14 showed that 77 percent of scheduled flights would have taken off during an ash cloud event from the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn. The exercise took place one year after ash from a real eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull halted flights in much of the region, causing widespread disruptions, and authorities wanted to test whether new procedures would enable the system to cope if the event happened again.

EUROCONTROL, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, participated, as did 77 airlines, 10 regulatory authorities, and the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell, which was created after the 2010 eruption. EUROCONTROL said this was the largest volcanic ash crisis exercise ever conducted, with these goals:

  • to test updated national and European region procedures described in the revised and agreed ICAO EUR/NAT Volcanic Eruption Contingency Plan
  • to simulate, together with airspace users, a scenario including the use of a safety risk assessment methodology now under consideration by ICAO, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and national authorities

Preliminary conclusions were:

  • real progress has been made since last year in improving operational efficiency while maintaining safety. By applying the revised ICAO procedures, 70 percent of all planned flights would have taken place, three times more than during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption
  • differences remain in the application of these revised procedures, which require further efforts at the European level to harmonize national responses
  • the European Crisis Visualisation Interactive Tool for AFTCM (EVITA), developed by EUROCONTROL, allowed for improved decision-making and use of airspace by aircraft operators

A detailed analysis of lessons learned will be done in early June, with recommendations presented to the EU Transport Council on June 22 and to EUROCONTROL governing bodies and ICAO.

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