European measures to minimise disruption caused by volcanic ash
Guidelines issued today will help to minimise airspace closures in the event of volcanic ash reaching Europe without compromising safety standards.
This is the result of the European Commission, Eurocontrol and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) working closely together with airlines, regulators, and aircraft and engine manufacturers over the past month. The improved approach will offer Member States greater flexibility in deciding how to manage their airspace, allowing for less flight disruption while still ensuring the highest level of safety. In addition the Commission and Eurocontrol have decided to create a European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) to ensure a timely response to any future pan-European crisis severely affecting aviation.
Vice-President Siim Kallas, Commissioner responsible for Transport, said: "This is a great step forward in reducing the impact of a natural disaster that has affected airlines and their passengers. This crisis has highlighted the need for coordinated action at European level, and it is this kind of proactive developments that will allow us to find a sustainable solution for dealing with this crisis."
How the improved approach works
The refined approach involves a safety recommendation (safety information bulletin) by EASA on the basis of airspace zones defined by Eurocontrol. The zones are named after the colour used to indicate them on charts produced by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC). These are:
- A white zone where normal flight operations apply;
- A red zone ("enhanced procedures zone (b)") in which some volcanic ash may be encountered, but in which EASA considers that flights can take place;
- A grey zone ("enhanced procedures zone (a)") in which EASA recommends two approaches that allow flights under certain conditions;
- A black zone ("no fly") in which EASA recommends banning flights because predicted ash concentrations exceed acceptable engine manufacturer tolerance levels.
The main evolution lies with a greater level of granularity in determining the enhanced procedures zone, thereby establishing the grey zone. This will allow Member States greater flexibility in deciding how to manage their airspace, allowing for less flight disruption while still ensuring safety.
The London-based VAAC will publish charts at six-hour intervals. Eurocontrol will make these charts and all updates available on its CFMU NOP Portal.
Member States will publish the approach being used in their area of responsibility and air navigation service providers will manage any airspace restrictions in coordination with the Central Flow Management Unit (CFMU).
How the EACCC will work
The EACCC will have as its main role to facilitate the management of crisis situations affecting aviation in the European (ECAC) region and will be activated when circumstances beyond the normal environment of operations are evident (e.g. volcanic eruption).