Volcanic Ash and Aviation - the 2014 Eruptions of Kelut and Sangeang Api, Indonesia

Friday, 19 December 2014
Andrew Craig Tupper, Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, VIC, Australia and Emile Jansons, Bureau of Meteorology, Darwin, NT, Australia
Two significant eruptions in Indonesia during the first part of 2014 have highlighted the continuing challenges of safe air traffic management around volcanic ash clouds. The stratospheric eruption of Kelut (also known as Kelud) in Java late on 13 February 2014 resulted in widespread aviation disruption over Indonesia and at least one serious volcanic ash encounter from an international airline. An upper-tropospheric eruption of Sangeang Api in the Lesser Sunda Islands on 30 May 2014 did not result in any known aircraft encounters, but did result in many delays and flight cancellations between Indonesia and Australia.

In both cases, the eruption and resultant ash clouds were relatively well observed, if subject to the usual issues in characterising such clouds. For example, as tropical eruptions frequently reach 15 km amsl and above due to the height of the tropical tropopause, it is frequently very difficult to provide an accurate estimation of conditions at the cruising levels of aircraft, at 10-11 km (or lower for shorter domestic routes).

More critically, the challenge of linking operational results from two scientific professions (volcanology and meteorology) with real-time aviation users remains strongly evident. Situational awareness of domestic and international airlines, ground-based monitoring and communications prior to and during the eruption, receiving and sharing pilot reports of volcanic ash, and appropriate flight responses all remain inadequate even in relatively fine conditions, with an unacceptable ongoing risk of serious aviation encounters should improvements not be made. Despite the extensive efforts of the International Civil Aviation Organization, World Meteorological Organization, and all partners in the International Airways Volcano Watch, and despite the acceleration of work on the issue since 2010, volcanic ash management remains sub-optimal.