Europe gears up for ash cloud simulation to test air traffic technology
Airlines and air traffic controllers in Europe are embarking on a 48-hour exercise this week to monitor new technology and procedures in the event of another volcanic eruption.
The simulation comes almost 12 months to the day since European air travel was thrown into disarray for a week after an Icelandic volcano spewed ash particles across the continent, forcing controllers to close large swathes of air space and the cancellation of thousands of flights.
Beginning on Wednesday 13 April and scheduled to run for two full days, over 70 airlines, 14 air navigation service providers, ten national regulatory authorities, the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre London (VAAC), as well as the European Commission, European Aviation Safety Agency and continent-wide air traffic organisation Eurocontrol are all involved.
Officials say the exercise will allow a full assessment of new procedures if another ash cloud hits North Atlantic and European air space, including the newly-created European Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) and a new system produced by Eurocontrol known as the European Crisis Visualization Interactive Tool, designed to allow controllers to better prepare for such a situation.
On the first day of the exercise, country controllers will ask Eurocontrol to open, close or restrict airspace to aircraft on the basis of current national procedures.
The second day, however, will see a new Europe-wide system tested. This approach is in line with new guidance procedures which allow 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”.
The volcano picked to simulate the ash cloud is the Grimsvötn volcano in Iceland. Eurocontrol has stressed that the exercise will have no impact on real flights over the next two days.
Here is a clip of the impact of the ash cloud on flights over the course of the incident last year:
Kevin May is a senior editor and one of the co-founders at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and will be publishing his first book - a biography about electronic band, Depeche Mode - soon.