|Updated February 24, 2004||
An International Problem that Requires an International Solution
ash is a worldwide aviation problem that demands an international solution.
The volcanic “ring of fire” circling the Pacific basin ranges
from South and Central America through the Pacific Northwest and Alaska,
and around to Kamchatka, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Micronesia.
This region is often cited as having the greatest volcanic ash risk because
of the number of active volcanoes and their proximity to major aviation
routes. Other regions of volcanic activity are in the Caribbean and Mediterranean
basins and south Asia. Ash plumes carried downwind from a major eruption
in any of these regions can endanger the aircraft of any nation flying
in a plume’s path.
symposium on volcanic ash and aviation safety brought international stakeholders,
as well as U.S. federal agencies and many R&D partners, together for
the first time. Since then, the VAAC system has been established. Detection
and monitoring of airborne ash using weather satellites in geosynchronous
orbit now complements observations of eruptions from volcano observatories
and reports of ash plumes from pilots. Atmospheric circulation models
provide improved forecasts of plume movements. New technology for inflight
detection of volcanic ash and gas is being tested. Most important, the
aviation community—commercial carriers, pilots, air traffic controllers,
flight service specialists, etc.—has gained operational experience
with this still-evolving international system for mitigating the volcanic
ash risk. The time is ripe to bring all these stakeholders together again,
both to assess how the current system is operating and to focus attention
on the critical areas for improvement.