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Ash Clouds - ash cloud travel alerts and flight disruption news from around the world

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This site is online to help travellers who may be stranded or delayed due to volcanic ash clouds around the world.

The website started life as in 2010 as a simple one page site which, along with up-to-date information and airport links, contained many additional sea, rail and bus links for travellers stranded in Europe due to the Icelandic ash cloud.

Since then, although the Icelandic situation has calmed down, we often saw increased traffic whenever an ash cloud event occured elsewhere in the world and, therefore, this site is an attempt to give solo and family travellers all the relevant information that may help them stay up-to-date with official news, find alternative travel links, and get deals on hotels if stranded somewhere a few extra days.

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CURRENT TRAVEL STATUS: There are currently no reported ash cloud disruptions anywhere in the world

What is an ash cloud?

Volcanic ash consists of fragments of pulverized rock, minerals and volcanic glass, created during volcanic eruptions and measuring less than 2 mm (0.079 inches) in diameter. Volcanic ash is formed during explosive volcanic eruptions when dissolved gases in magma expand and escape violently into the atmosphere. The force of the escaping gas shatters the magma and propels it into the atmosphere where it solidifies into fragments of volcanic rock and glass. Ash is also produced when magma comes into contact with water during phreatomagmatic eruptions, causing the water to explosively flash to steam leading to shattering of magma. Once in the air, ash is transported by wind up to thousands of kilometers away. These huge ash 'clouds' contain fluctuating concentrations of ash.

Due to this wide dispersal, ash can have a number of impacts on society, beyond its effects to aviation, including human and animal health, disruption to critical infrastructure (e.g., electric power supply systems, telecommunications, water and waste-water networks, transportation), and primary industries (e.g., agriculture).

Volcanic ash and aviation safety

Plumes of volcanic ash near active volcanoes are an aviation safety hazard, especially for night flights. Volcanic ash is hard and abrasive, and can quickly cause significant wear to propellers and turbocompressor blades, and scratch cockpit windows, impairing visibility. The ash contaminates fuel and water systems, can jam gears, and make engines flameout. Its particles have a low melting point, so they melt in the combustion chamber and the ceramic mass then sticks to turbine blades, fuel nozzles and combustors, which can potentially lead to total engine failure. Ash can also contaminate the cabin and damage avionics.

In 1991, the aviation industry decided to set up Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) for liaison between meteorologists, volcanologists, and the aviation industry.

Prior to 2010, aircraft engine manufacturers had not defined specific particle levels above which they considered engines at risk. Airspace regulators took the general approach that if ash concentration rose above zero, they considered airspace unsafe, and consequently closed it.

The costs of air travel disruption in Europe after the Icelanding volcanic eruption in 2010 forced aircraft manufacturers to specify limits on how much ash they considered acceptable for a jet engine to ingest without damage. In April, the UK CAA, in conjunction with engine manufacturers, set the safe upper limit of ash density at 2mg per cubic metre of air space.

From May 2010, the CAA revised the safe limit upwards to 4 mg per cubic metre of air space.

To minimise further disruption this and other volcanic eruptions could cause, the CAA created a new category of restricted airspace called a Time Limited Zone (or TLZ).

Airspace categorised as a TLZ is similar to airspace under severe weather conditions in that restrictions should be of a short duration. However, a key difference with TLZ airspace is that airlines must produce certificates of compliance for aircraft entering these areas. Any airspace where ash density exceeds 4mg per cubic metre is prohibited airspace.

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