Monday, April 19, 2010


The biggest aviation news in some time has been the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. To be more specific, it's the ash plume that's the big news. Volcanic ash became known as a problem for jet aircraft in the 1980's, when there were several incidents involving airliners that experienced engine failure as a result of flying through volcanic ash. Of these, the two best known are probably British Airways Flight 9 (June, 1982); and KLM Flight 867 (December 1989). Coincidentally, both of these were B747's. In each case, all four engines failed mid-flight, turning them into 800,000-pound gliders. Once clear of the ash clouds, the respective crews were able to restart their damaged engines and accomplish safe landings. After landing, both aircraft required replacement of their engines and windshields, plus other repairs.

Although neither of these incidents involved any injuries, it's obviously not the sort of thing that should be repeated. For that reason, the European aviation authorities shut down airports and closed airspace as the ash plume approached. As I write this, there have been some successful test flights, but passenger operations are still curtailed.

Yesterday, I counted nine aircraft stranded at LAX. There may be more that I didn't find, and perhaps some I couldn't recognize, as for instance US airlines that park planes here anyway (primarily American and United). Airlines represented include: British Airways, Lufthansa, and Air Tahiti, each of whom have two aircraft on the ground here; along with KLM, Swiss, and Virgin Atlantic, with one apiece. The one missing player of note is Air France, who managed to get all of their aircraft out. I'm also not sure why Tahiti's airplanes are stuck here, since while they can't go to Paris, they're still running their flights to and from Papeete. I don't think we've seen Aeroflot here in the last few days either, although they don't seem to have an aircraft stranded here.

Map showing spread of volcanic ash from Iceland

Infographic on spread of Icelandic volcano ash cloud
I borrowed these maps of the ash cloud coverage from BBC News here and here.

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