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Airlines to Decide Flight Ops as Volcano Threat Looms

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | August 20, 2014
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[Avionics Today 08-20-2014] Eurocontrol is "more prepared" to assist with operators dealing with volcanic ash, the agency said in response to a report of an increased risk of the Bárðarbunga volcano system erupting. Iceland's Met Office said in a statement that there were "strong indications of ongoing magma movement" and raised its aviation warning to orange, the second highest on the color code.
Nicarnica's AVOID ash detection system could assist airlines with flying in contaminated airspace if the Bárðarbunga volcano system erupts. Photo: Airbus
The Eurocontrol statement was issued to downplay the repeat of the ash crisis that occurred four years ago. In April 2010, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano generated ash that lingered in European airspace causing more than 100,000 flights to be cancelled throughout the region for six days costing airlines more than $1.7 billion in revenue, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
"There is currently no impact on aviation and the Network Manager Operations Centre is monitoring the situation," Eurocontrol said in a statement. "Europe is more prepared to deal with volcanic ash these days; we have better mechanisms in place than we did in 2010. Every year, volcanic ash exercises are conducted and we learn from them: the latest one was held in April this year."
Since 2010, Eurocontrol has worked on preventing a similar crisis from occurring. The agency has implemented a more unified approach toward flight cancellations, allowing decisions to perform flights in airborne contamination to be made by airlines based on the conclusions of their own safety risk assessments. 
One piece of avionics equipment that has been undergoing development and flight testing over the past year that could assist pilots of airlines that do decide to fly in contaminated airspace is the AVOID ash detection system. Created by Nicarnica Aviation, the AVOID system uses infrared technology to provide pilots and airline operations control centers with images of ash detection, similar to a weather-detection radar system.  
U.K.-based discount carrier EasyJet performed flight testing with the system in 2013 and is looking to deploy it across some of its aircraft by the end of this year. At the 2014 Farnborough Airshow, Nicarnica announced a new partnership with Elbit Systems to add Enhanced Vision System (EVS) cameras to the AVOID system, giving pilots increased situational awareness.

Other improvements include the establishment of the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) to coordinate a response to "any crisis affecting European Aviation, such as an ash cloud." The agency is also relying upon the increased use of Pilot in Flight Reports (PIREPS) to determine where ash is located. 

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