In 2010 the Icelandic volcano Eyjyafjallajokull erupted. Although the eruption itself was small the ash cloud it produced caused major disruption to airline travel across much of Europe. Over 20 countries had to close airspace to commercial aircraft and more than 10 million passengers were affected. The cancellation of so many flights meant a huge number of airline tickets needed to be exchanged or refunded costing commercial aviation companies a lot of money.
Now another volcano in Iceland, Bardarbunda, is causing concern. Seismic activity has been recorded happening underneath the volcano. These earthquakes, with some measuring over 5 on the Richter scale, could leave the volcano unstable. The volcano is covered with a thick layer of ice meaning when the lava reaches it another huge ash cloud could be formed.
Airlines do not want to be caught out again. Some have already begun diverting flights away from the area and although nearby airspace is closed all of Iceland’s airports are still open. Passengers wanting to change or get refunds on airline tickets are at the mercy of the airlines and travel insurance providers as protection against issues such as this differs between the companies. With so many flights from the UK to America travelling over Iceland passenger and airlines alike are preparing for the worst.
Flying through volcanic ash is not possible as it is simply too dangerous. The Federal Aviation Administration, a body responsible for overseeing development and the advancement of safety regulations in aviation, have reported serious damaged caused to planes in this situation. According to the FAA both B747-200 and B747-400 aircraft have suffered major damage, including the loss of all four engines, during such an experience.
Usually pilots will know all about areas of volcanic ash to avoid due to reports from air traffic control but this is not always the case. If an aircraft comes across undetected volcanic ash it can be a serious situation. In poor visibility it can be hard to tell the difference between volcanic ash and regular cloud. One of the biggest dangers is that when a volcano erupts it sends sulphur dioxide up into the atmosphere. If an aircraft flies into volcanic ash, sulphur dioxide can become present in the cabin. Air will high levels of sulphur dioxide can cause health problems. These include tightness of the chest, coughing and shortness of breath. This can be especially dangerous for anyone with existing respiratory problems such as asthma.
The aviation community are well aware of the dangers volcanic ash can cause but at the same time are worried about the potential disruption delays and cancellations may cause. With Bardarbunda looking as if it may recreate the 2010 eruption of Eyjyafjallajokull there could well be troubled times ahead for the airline companies. Passengers may well become frustrated but ensuring their passengers’ safety is the prime concern of all airline companies. With volcanic ash being so dangerous to fly through it is just not worth the risk. We all wait with baited breath to see how this volcano will react.