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ALASKA AIRLINES PROCEDURES FOR
OPERATING IN VOLCANIC ASH CONDITIONS

Alaska Airlines has many active volcanoes within its flight domain. To prepare for an eruption and resulting encounter with volcanic ash, the airline has developed focused guidelines for flight operations when eruptions interfere with its route structures:

  1. When in doubt, don’t fly.
  2. Use facts and data.
  3. Identify the location of both the ash and clear areas.
  4. Stay focused.

1. WHEN IN DOUBT, DON’T FLY
The fundamental principle by which Alaska Airlines operates is knowing where to find the ash after a volcanic eruption. If unsure of the ash location, it will not allow its flight crews to fly through the eruption area. Though this approach is conservative, Alaska Airlines successfully and safely operated after the 1989 Mt. Redoubt eruption and other volcanic eruptions.

2. USE FACTS AND DATA
Alaska Airlines has selected several information sources, uses Volcanic Ash Advisory Statements from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers, and is in direct communication with the Alaska Volcano Observatory. During a major eruption, Alaska Airlines will interview its own pilots as well as other operators’ pilots about their observations on ash location. It has also established contacts on the ground that it can call for additional intelligence. These individuals include mayors and police officers in villages and towns near the airline’s flight paths. If Alaska Airlines receives inconsistent information, it double-checks and continually validates what appears to be correct.

3. IDENTIFY THE LOCATION OF BOTH THE ASH AND CLEAR AREAS
Alaska Airlines tracks the ash by asking a number of questions:

  • Where is the ash itself?
  • Where is the volcanic source of the ash?
  • What are the winds doing?
  • What information is available from the volcanological community?
  • What information do the reports from the pilots, selected contacts, and others contain?

Alaska Airlines then provides its pilots with information on where to fly and the reasons for not flying in certain areas.

4. STAY FOCUSED
Ed Haeseker, manager of air traffic control for Alaska Airlines, worked during the Mt. Redoubt event with Tom Cufley, then chief pilot at Alaska Airlines. They found that a small team worked better than a large team, especially if the chief pilot provided information directly to the flight crew in the early days of the event. In addition, a small team can travel more quickly to the site where the greatest assistance is needed and remain focused on the key task: identifying where the ash is.

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ICAO ACTIVITIES ON VOLCANIC ASH

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) initiated a volcanic ash effort in 1982 after multiple volcanic ash encounters by 747 airplanes near Jakarta, Indonesia. The resulting organization, the Volcanic Ash Warnings Study Group, has worked since then to standardize the information provided to flight crews about volcanic eruptions.

In addition, ICAO formed the International Airways Volcano Watch (IAVW) in 1987. This effort formalized the international arrangements for monitoring and providing warnings to airplanes about volcanic ash in the atmosphere. ICAO annex III and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Technical Regulation C.3.1 introduced a requirement to disseminate information about volcanic ash to airplanes in the form of significant meteorological information (SIGMET) and notice to airmen (NOTAM).

The first WMO/ICAO workshop on volcanic ash hazards was held in Darwin, Australia, in 1995. Since then, a number of the designated Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAAC) have come into full operation. A second workshop in Toulouse, France, in 1998 focused primarily on VAAC responsibilities and procedures.

More information about ICAO activities related to volcanic ash avoidance and encounters is available in the organization’s document titled “Operational Procedures And List Of Operational Contact Points Between Vulcanological Agencies, Meteorological Watch Offices And Area Control Centres,” or from the address below.

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T. Fox
Secretary of the ICAO Volcanic Ash Warnings Study Group

Chief—Meteorology

International Civil Aviation Organization
999 University Street
Montreal, Quebec H3C 5H7 Canada

E-mail: tfox@icao.org

 
VOLCANO ERUPTION WARNING COLOR CODES

Eruption warnings are issued in the form of color-coded information releases. Over the past 10 years, this method has proved to be effective for alerting the aviation community to potential volcanic ash.

ALERT COLOR CODE VOLCANO ACTIVITY STATUS
Red

Volcanic eruption in progress. Ash plume or cloud reported above FL 250.

Volcano dangerous, eruption likely, with ash plume or cloud expected to rise above FL 250.

Orange

Volcanic eruption in progress but ash plume or cloud not reaching nor expected to reach FL 250.

Volcano dangerous, eruption likely, but ash plume or cloud not expected to reach FL 250.

Yellow

Volcano known to be active from time to time and volcanic activity has recently increased significantly, volcano not currently considered dangerous but caution should be exercised.

After an eruption, i.e., change in alert to yellow from red or orange, volcanic activity has decreased significantly, volcano not currently considered dangerous but caution should be exercised.

Green Volcanic activity considered to have ceased and volcano reverted to its normal state.

The responsible volcanological agency in the region where the volcano erupts should provide the area control center with (1) the color code for the level of alert indicating the status of activity of the volcano and (2) any change from a previous status of activity (e.g., “Red alert following yellow” or “Green alert following orange”). Source: ICAO—International Airways Volcano Watch.

 
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VOLCANIC ASH RESOURCES

Volcanic ash resources are available worldwide and in many forms accessible to operators. Volcano observatories are located throughout the world, including the Alaska Volcano Observatory for information about North Pacific volcanoes and the Nordic Volcanological Institute for information about volcanic activity that could affect North Atlantic routes. Many of these observatories provide immediate eruption and volcanic ash updates to operators by fax, e-mail, telephone, or teletype. Information is also available on the World Wide Web at the following sites:

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Global Volcanism Program: http://www.volcano.si.edu/gvp/

The U.S. Geological Survey: http://www.usgs.gov/themes/volcano.html

The Airline Dispatcher Federation (a detailed paper about volcanic ash written by Leonard J. Salinas of United Airlines, Chicago, Illinois): http://www.dispatcher.org/library/VolcanicAsh.htm

The Committee on Earth Observation Satellites Disaster Management Support Project/Volcanic Hazards Management (an effort by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; information on tracking ash clouds): http://disaster.ceos.org/newash.htm#volcanoes

The Istituto Internazionale di Vulcanologia (a summary of volcanoes in Italy): http://www.iiv.ct.cnr.it/

The Nordic Volcanological Institute (information about volcanoes in and around Iceland): http://www.norvol.hi.is/index.html

The Volcanological Society of Japan (eruption information, live images of Japanese volcanoes, and other information):
http://hakone.eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp/kazan/VSJ1E.html

Current Eruptions in Japan (additional current information):
http://hakone.eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp/vrc/erup/erup.html

Other sources of information include the following:

The Boeing Company, Airliner magazine (“Vulcan’s Blast,” April-June 1990, and “Vulcan Returns: Volcanic Ash Effects on Airplanes Revisited,” October-December 1991) and video (“Volcanic Ash Avoidance: Flight Crew Briefing”).

U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Aviation Safety Journal reprint (“The Volcano Threat to Aviation Safety”).

Casadevall, T. J., ed. 1994. The First International Symposium on Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety: Proceedings Volume: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 2047.

Casadevall, T. J., T. B. Thompson, and T. Fox. 1999. World map of volcanoes and principal air navigation features. U.S. Geological Survey Map I-2700.

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THE PRIMARY SOURCE FOR ANY VOLCANIC ERUPTION AND ASH INFORMATION IS A VOLCANIC ASH ADVISORY CENTER. THE OTHER SOURCES LISTED HERE MAY OFFER MORE DETAILED INFORMATION ON A PARTICULAR ERUPTION. – ED.

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