Volcanic Ash: How big is the threat to your holiday?

By , November 28, 2011 12:49 pm
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Before April 2010, and the eruption of Mount Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland, flight disruption due to volcanic ash was almost unheard of in the UK. Since then, there seems to be a constant threat of volcanic ash from erupting volcanoes grounding flights around the world.

travel insurance volcanic ash

Check out our volcanic ash infographic for facts and figures about volcanic ash flight disruption and travel insurance

May 2011 saw the eruption of another volcano in Iceland, Mt Grimsvortn, which again disrupted flights for several days, but fortunately, due to more favourable weather conditions and updated guidelines from the CAA, the disruption was not as widespread as the previous year.

In June 2011, a volcanic ash cloud from an eruption in the Puyehue Cordon Caulle volcano chain in southern Chile caused significant disruption to air travel around Australia and New Zealand. A number of Australia’s major domestic carriers which include Qantas and Virgin suspended or cancelled flights.

Further disruption was caused 4 months later, in October, when volcanic ash from the earlier eruption was stirred up by high winds, causing the suspension of flights in Argentina and Uruguay.

Add to that two more volcanoes in Iceland which have been threatening to erupt over recent weeks and months. Fears over the possible eruption of Hekla were voiced in July and in October a series of earthquakes were detected around the Katla volcano which could indicate an imminent eruption. Records show that Katla usually has a large eruption twice a century. Since its last eruption was almost exactly 93 years ago, it is long overdue for another, seismologists say.

Prior to the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud of April 2010, aircraft engine manufacturers had not defined specific particle levels above which engines were considered to be at risk. The general approach taken by airspace regulators was that if the volcanic ash concentration rose above zero, then the airspace was considered unsafe and was consequently closed.

During the volcanic ash crisis of April 2010, the CAA in conjunction with engine manufacturers, were forced to set new guidelines which allowed aircraft to fly when there are levels of volcanic ash between 200 and 2000 microgrammes of ash per cubic metre, so long as appropriate maintenance and ash inspection proceedures were followed.

To minimise further disruption caused by volcanic ash the CAA also created a new category of restricted airspace called a Time Limited Zone, where restrictions are put in place for a short period of time and airlines must produce certificates of compliance in order to enter these areas.

Although the severe disruption due to volcanic ash seen in April 2010 is unlikely to happen again due to these changes in restrictions making blanket closures of airspace improbable, flights continue to be disrupted by volcanic ash across the world.

Is there really more of a threat to our travel now than in the past or are we just more aware of it? It’s hard to tell, but either way, it pays to be protected and know where you stand if your holiday is disrupted by a volcanic ash cloud.

Check out our Volcanic Ash Travel Disruption Infographic for some quick facts and figures on volcanic ash flight disruption, your rights and travel insurance for volcanic ash.

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