Jul 7, 2014

Why does volcanic ash cause disruption to air travel?

Volcanic ash grounds flights then you need travel insurance.

There have been more than 125 notable volcanic eruptions since 2000.  Of those, a large proportion have caused local and regional flight cancellations and airport closures.  However, since 2010, eruptions in Chile, Iceland and Indonesian have caused travel chaos spanning continents and oceans with ash plumes exposing aircraft to environmental conditions too dangerous to fly.

The first problem is the ash particles are so small (less than 2mm) that  weather radars are unable to detect the dangerous plumes.  Hence, making it near impossible for an aircraft to avoid entering the plume – especially on night flights.


volcanic eruption

The International Civil Aviation Organisation published article, Flight Safety and Volcanic Ash, states volcanic ash consists mostly of sharp-edged, hard glass particles and pulverized rock. It is very abrasive and, being largely composed of siliceous materials, has a melting temperature below the operating temperature of modern jet or turbine engines.

The abrasiveness of volcanic ash can be very detrimental to aircraft. The following, non-exhaustive list, provides examples of what can be expected in the event an aircraft encounters a volcanic ash plum:

• the malfunction or failure of one or more engines leading to a reduction, or complete loss of power, but also to failures of electrical, pneumatic and hydraulic systems. Volcanic ash particles melt when sucked into the jet/turbine engines, these particles then fuse to engine components, adversely affecting its efficiency leading to engine surge and possibly flame-out;

• the blockage of pitot and static sensors resulting in unreliable airspeed indications and erroneous warnings;

• windscreens rendered partially or completely unusable; and

• contamination of cabin air requiring crew use of oxygen masks


Plane volcanic ash


Volcanic Ash Cloud

A volcanic ash cloud may be accompanied by gaseous solutions of sulphur dioxide (which when combined with water create sulphuric acid), chlorine (which when combined with water create hydrochloric acid) and other chemicals which are corrosive to the airframe and are hazardous to health.

Given these facts, it is evident that volcanic ash in the atmosphere may pose a serious hazard to aircraft flight safety with the potential to be catastrophic. This explains why so many flights are cancelled during the existence of ash plumes.

Travel Insurance is important when you trip is interrupted 

This also demonstrates why travel insurance is a necessity.  The Chilean eruption in South America closed airports in Australia and New Zealand.  Cancelled flights caused people to miss weddings, connecting flights, cruises departing from other countries, non-refundable tours, several days in pre-paid resort accommodation, surfing trips, prepaid conferences and even entire holidays were cancelled.  Travel insurance covered out of pocket expenses and in many instances saved people thousands of dollars.

Travel Insurance Plus offers quality travel insurance for less than you might expect.  Our comprehensive policies cover unlimited cancellation and loss of deposits costs, emergency assistance and up to $50,000 for alternative travel arrangements.  We also offer overseas emergency medical and hospital expenses.

Click here for a quote – Top Quality Travel Insurance

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