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3 Tips for Flying in Areas of Volcanic Activity

June 11, 2018

How Can Manned Aircraft and Drones Safely Share the Skies?

Are you up to speed on flying in areas of volcanic activity? With several volcanoes currently active, including Kilauea in Hawaii and Fuego in Guatemala, now is a good time to brush up on your knowledge. Here are three tips for flying in areas of volcanic ash:

  1. Avoid Volcanic Ash: The first rule of thumb when flying in an area of volcanic ash is – don’t do it. Plan a route of flight to ensure a wide clearance from volcanic ash clouds. Abrasive volcanic ash can cause substantial damage to engines, pneumatic and hydraulic systems, as well as windscreens, contaminate oxygen systems and block pitot/static systems.
  2. Stay Informed: Several resources are available for pilots to receive current volcanic ash activity. The nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAAC), SIGMETs and NOTAMs provide details regarding volcanic ash clouds and related information. View the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers.
  3. Be Prepared: If you’re planning to fly near areas of volcanic activity, refresh your knowledge of operations in volcanic ash before you go, and develop and document operating procedures. For example, if you inadvertently encounter volcanic ash, be prepared to respond appropriately by reducing thrust to idle (altitude permitting) and reversing course out of the ash cloud. Do not attempt to fly through or climb out of the ash cloud, as ash clouds can extend for hundreds of miles.

If volcanic ash is encountered outside of areas previously reported, be sure to advise ATC as soon as possible – you may be the first to encounter volcanic ash in that area. PIREPs are an operator’s opportunity to share new information, confirm current information or alert ATC and other pilots that the area is clear of ash.

Operators may stay clear of volcanic ash during flight but find ash has impacted their destination or departure airport. When landing at an airport with volcanic ash deposits on the runway, breaking action might be degraded. Pilots taking off from airports with volcanic ash deposits on the runway should wait for ash to settle before departing and might find it appropriate to delay flap extension.

“The best practice for operating near volcanic activity is simply to avoid it,” said John Kosak, program manager of weather for NBAA Air Traffic Services. “If you’re operating in an area with known volcanic activity, even if you plan your flight for a wide berth around volcanic ash, review company procedures and aircraft manufacturer recommendations regarding volcanic ash so you’re prepared for an unexpected encounter.”