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ALPA Cosponsors International Volcanic Ash Conference

ALPA Engineering And Air Safety

Air Line Pilot, September 2004, p.26

ALPA was the only pilot organization amidst several government agencies that cosponsored the Second International Conference on Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety, held June 21–24, in Alexandria, Va.

The Conference, organized by the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology, was the first held since 1991 and drew 226 attendees from 21 countries, 15 airlines, 12 universities, and 6 private corporations.

Representing the Association during the Conference were Capt. Ed Miller (United, Ret.), who has been ALPA’s principal representative regarding volcanic hazards to aviation for more than a decade; John O’Brien, then Director of ALPA’s Engineering and Air Safety Department, now retired; and ALPA senior staff engineer Bill Phaneuf.

"I had the privilege of representing ALPA at the First International Conference on Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety in 1991, and recently at the second one," Capt. Miller said later. "At both events, I was impressed by (1) the number of attendees and the cross-section of the scientific community they represented, and (2) the enthusiasm of the participants to continue to move forward to mitigate the volcanic ash hazard to aviation.

"Before this Conference," he continued, "nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) had been established worldwide to detect volcanic activity and disseminate information about it to the aviation community in a timely manner. One could make a case that, since we have had the VAACs, we have not lost an aircraft to volcanic ash encounters and therefore we have solved the problem.

"Not so—airlines have suffered significant financial losses caused by volcanic ash encounters in VAAC areas since their inception. The VAAC structure must be strengthened. As a result of the excellent presentations given at the Conference, we can focus on the areas of greatest need.

"We must not allow our past success in mitigating the hazards of volcanic ash to aviation to temper the resolve displayed at the Conference," Capt. Miller declared. "The 64,000 pilots of ALPA are depending on the resolve of the participants in this Conference to help maintain their excellent safety record."

ALPA sponsored the luncheon held on the opening day of the Conference. Luncheon speaker Capt. Eric Moody (British Airways, Ret.) regaled Conference attendees with his account of dealing with a temporary four-engine flameout in a B-747 after flying through the otherwise undetected ash plume from Indonesia’s Mt. Galunggung in 1982.

Flying at night over the ocean, the airplane descended from 37,000 feet to about 14,000 feet MSL before Capt. Moody and his crew were able to restart two engines. They later started the other two, but re-entered the ash cloud and had to shut down No. 2 after it began backfiring and shaking violently.

The Conference set four goals for attendees and the bodies they represent to reach:

1. Identify new operational needs and requirements and fund the research and development needed to satisfy those requirements:

 Give pilots additional information to use in defining, in PIREPs, the existence or dissipation of volcanic ash.

 Notify airlines of a volcanic eruption within 5 minutes after the eruption occurs.

 Improve current satellite sensors for detecting ash, ensuring that members of the volcanic ash community are directly involved with research projects regarding detection (e.g., of sulfur dioxide) by satellites.

 Get more access to airlines’ data on engine problems resulting from ash encounters after the fact (to permit study of engine damage).

 Provide to the Group on Earth Observations Architecture Subgroup requirements for using satellites to detect volcanic eruptions and track ash plumes, as critical elements of the Global Earth Observing System.

2. Where possible, match operational and research and development needs and requirements to ongoing programs and projects to maximize partnerships:

 NASA will continue to leverage resources in its aviation weather research, especially the areas for hazard mitigation research associated with the Advanced Satellite Aviation Weather Products project.

 The FAA’s Aviation Weather Research Program provides opportunities for collaborating on mitigating volcanic ash in the Oceanic Weather Product Development Team.

3. Develop a "road map" for improving education, training, outreach, and decision tools regarding volcanic ash:

 Conduct regional workshops to provide training on volcanic ash and how it affects aviation safety and improve implementation of the International Airways Volcano Watch. Especially, refine communications protocols through table-top exercises, multi-agency operational plans, etc.

 Recommend that the International Civil Aviation Organization provide a website for an international source of training materials.

 Train both sources and users (vulcanologists, meteorologists, Automated Flight Service Station personnel, airline dispatchers, air traffic controllers, and flight crews).

 Develop a final four-dimensional graphic representation of the volcanic ash situation and expected changes for both airline pilots and dispatchers.

4. Develop a framework for improved partnerships among members of the international volcanic ash community to make better use of resources and capabilities across the spectrum of operations and research and development:

 Find additional sources of funding within the World Meteorological Organization, ICAO, and U.S. agencies for improving communications (e.g., between the WMO and the VAACs) and training.

 Form an aviation issues group within the International Association of Vulcanology and Chemistry of Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) to address volcanic ash mitigation for airline safety. In addition, work with the IAVCEI Commission on Education to train vulcanologists on the effects of volcanic ash on aviation safety.

 Create a new list server on the Internet focused on ash mitigation issues, particularly those covered during the Conference.

Next steps for the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology Working Group for Volcanic Ash will be to (1) seek help, input, and advice from international partners and ICAO, (2) sort action items and recommendations into short- (0- to 12-month), mid- (1- to 4-year), and long-term (4- to 10-year) actions and set priorities for them, and (3) develop and gain approval of a Volcanic Ash Implementation Plan, outlining program goals, operational needs/requirements, and R&D needs and priorities, within the next 12 months.

ALPA will continue to play a direct role in these activities, bringing the line pilot perspective to this important safety issue.