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Home > Emergencies > What are the volcanic ash hazards in flight?
What are the volcanic ash hazards in flight?
Flying - Emergencies
Saturday, 19 December 2009 05:33

Dear Capt. Lim,

The imminent eruption on Mt. Mayon in the Phillipines is in my thought since I'll be taking cross-Pacific trip to Vietnam in 3 weeks’ time. I know it's premature to worry about something out of my control but it does cause some anxiety.

What are procedures/rules the commercial airlines follow if entering the volcanic zone?

Can volcanic ash cloud be detected with on-board instruments?

Yours website is very informative and helpful.



Hi David,

Volcanic ash activity in flight is of course a concern to airliners but leave your worries to the pilots. All pilots are fully aware of any volcanic eruptions on the route that they fly on. In fact, flights are usually rerouted to avoid the hazardous volcanic ash.

Although volcanic ash is difficult to detect on the radar, pilots could generally detect its likely existence through the smell it emits once approaching the activity. However, in the most unlikely event of a volcanic ash encounter, there is a specific laid down procedure for such an event. Amongst others, the pilot would make a 180 degrees turn whilst carrying out his emergency drills.

So far, the last serious encounter happened 27 years ago in 1982 when a British Airways B747 lost all its four engines after penetrating into a cloud of volcanic ash at 37,000 feet. Fortunately, they were able to restart the engines after the plane had descended to around 14,000 feet but had to shut down one of them again as it began to develop mechanical problems. They finally landed safely in Jakarta with only three engines.

Since then, two more B747s also lost all four engines from encounters with volcanic ash whilst enroute to Anchorage, Alaska. They also came within 90 seconds of crashing but landed safely with some damage.

You can see the whole episode of the British Airways volcanic encounter in the YouTube videos below:-

All Engines Failed - Part 1

All Engines Failed - Part 2

All Engines Failed - Part 3

All Engines Failed - Part 4

All Engines Failed - Part 5


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