Volcanic ash avoidance is an important safety consideration for aircraft operators and air traffic controllers when flying near active volcanoes. Volcanic ash can pose a serious threat to aircraft safety, as it can cause damage to aircraft engines and other critical systems, and reduce visibility for pilots.
When a volcano is erupting, ash clouds can be carried by wind and can travel over a wide area, affecting airspace for hundreds of miles around the volcano. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has established guidelines for volcanic ash avoidance to help ensure the safety of aircraft in affected areas.
ICAO recommends that aircraft avoid flying through areas of known or suspected volcanic ash. To do this, air traffic controllers use information provided by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs), which monitor volcanic activity and issue advisories on the location and movement of ash clouds. Pilots can then use this information to plan their routes to avoid areas with volcanic ash.
In addition to avoiding areas of known or suspected volcanic ash, aircraft operators may also take other measures to reduce the risk of ash-related damage. For example, some aircraft are equipped with special sensors and filters that can detect and remove volcanic ash particles from the air entering the engines. Operators may also choose to reduce the altitude of their flights, as volcanic ash tends to be more concentrated at higher altitudes.
Volcanic ash avoidance is an important safety consideration for all aircraft operators, and close collaboration between air traffic controllers, VAACs, and aircraft operators is crucial to ensure the safety of all flights in affected areas.
Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) are located around the world in regions where volcanic activity is common. There are currently nine VAACs operated by different organizations, covering different regions of the world:
- Anchorage VAAC – covers Alaska, Kamchatka, and the North Pacific
- Buenos Aires VAAC – covers South America and the South Atlantic
- Darwin VAAC – covers Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the South Pacific
- London VAAC – covers Europe, Iceland, and the North Atlantic
- Montreal VAAC – covers Eastern Canada and the North Atlantic
- Tokyo VAAC – covers Japan, the Philippines, and the Western Pacific
- Toulouse VAAC – covers the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Middle East
- Washington VAAC – covers the United States, Mexico, and Central America
- Wellington VAAC – covers New Zealand and the South Pacific
Each VAAC is responsible for monitoring volcanic activity in its designated region and issuing advisories to aircraft operators and air traffic controllers. The information provided by VAACs is critical for ensuring the safety of aircraft in areas affected by volcanic activity, and plays a key role in reducing the risk of ash-related damage.