Operational Implications of Airborne Volcanic Ash

Gary L. Hufford
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Leonard J. Salinas
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James J. Simpson
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Elliott G. Barske
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David C. Pieri
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Volcanic ash clouds pose a real threat to aircraft safety. The ash is abrasive and capable of causing serious damage to aircraft engines, control surfaces, windshields, and landing lights. In addition, ash can clog the pitot-static systems, which determine wind speed and altitude, and damage sensors used to fly the aircraft. To ensure aviation safety, a warning system should be capable of a 5-min response time once an eruption has been detected. Pilots are the last link in the chain of safety actions to avoid or mitigate encounters with volcanic ash. For the pilots to be effective, the warning and safety system must meet their needs. The ability to issue accurate and timely warnings, advisories, and forecasts requires a rapid means to detect and continually track the ash cloud and smooth coordination between many agencies. The current operational ash detection technique uses satellite remote sensing. Potential problems with this technique and the potential impact of these problems on aircraft safety are discussed.

*National Weather Service, Alaska Region, Anchorage, Alaska.

+United Airlines, World Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois.

#Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California.

@National Weather Service, Alaska Aviation Weather Unit, Anchorage, Alaska.

&Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Corresponding author address: Gary L. Hufford, Regional Scientist, National Weather Service, 222 West 7th Avenue, #23, Anchorage, AK 99513-7575. E-mail: gary.hufford@noaa.gov

Volcanic ash clouds pose a real threat to aircraft safety. The ash is abrasive and capable of causing serious damage to aircraft engines, control surfaces, windshields, and landing lights. In addition, ash can clog the pitot-static systems, which determine wind speed and altitude, and damage sensors used to fly the aircraft. To ensure aviation safety, a warning system should be capable of a 5-min response time once an eruption has been detected. Pilots are the last link in the chain of safety actions to avoid or mitigate encounters with volcanic ash. For the pilots to be effective, the warning and safety system must meet their needs. The ability to issue accurate and timely warnings, advisories, and forecasts requires a rapid means to detect and continually track the ash cloud and smooth coordination between many agencies. The current operational ash detection technique uses satellite remote sensing. Potential problems with this technique and the potential impact of these problems on aircraft safety are discussed.

*National Weather Service, Alaska Region, Anchorage, Alaska.

+United Airlines, World Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois.

#Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California.

@National Weather Service, Alaska Aviation Weather Unit, Anchorage, Alaska.

&Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Corresponding author address: Gary L. Hufford, Regional Scientist, National Weather Service, 222 West 7th Avenue, #23, Anchorage, AK 99513-7575. E-mail: gary.hufford@noaa.gov
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