Grimsvotn volcano

More test flights should be launched in Grimsvotn ash cloud - IMechE

More test flights should be launched in the Grimsvotn ash cloud to prevent disruption to air travel in the future, an engineering organisation says.

Dr Colin Brown, director of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) said: “Airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority should be using the Grimsvotn ash cloud to launch test flights to verify the theoretical modelling of how ash clouds disperse.

“More test flights should be taking place. It’s only by flying up to these areas and measuring the amount of ash in the atmosphere and the way it accumulates in engines, that work can be done to prevent disruption to air travel due to volcanic ash in the future,” Dr Brown said.

Iceland’s latest volcanic eruption has already led to airlines cancelling a number of flights to and from Irish and Scottish airports, and around 200 and 250 flights have already been cancelled in Europe.

However, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) said since last year’s eruption, work had been undertaken in case of a recurrence of the ash cloud problem, and hopefully this resulted in less disruption.

“Work by engine manufacturers on tolerances to different concentrations and sizes of ash particles, and by meteorologists on the movement of ash clouds, will permit much more careful analysis of where airspace needs to be closed. Hopefully this will result in far less disruption of air travel,” said Phil Cutcher, from the IET.

“Nevertheless, safety has to be an absolute priority for air travel; in any case of doubt it will be necessary to ‘play safe’,” he said.

Shortly after 9.30am today, air traffic control company Nats said “an area of volcanic ash” was forecast to affect some parts of the UK between 1pm and 7pm today.

Nats said airports remained open but that services from Londonderry, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Prestwick, Newcastle, Carlisle, Durham Tees Valley and Cumbernauld airports may be affected. The airports listed by Nats could all possibly experience high-level densities of ash.

Earlier Nats had said air services at Aberdeen, Inverness, Benbecula, Barra and Tiree airports could be affected until 1pm. The latest bulletin from the company suggested that these airports might be free of ash later today.

UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is chairing a meeting of Cobra - the Government’s emergency planning committee - to discuss the latest ash cloud problem.

Hammond said there was some early indication that the scale and power of the eruption could be subsiding a little.

“Perhaps it’s a little bit too early to be absolutely sure about that, but clearly that’s the most important thing. If the ash stops belching out of the volcano then, after a few days, the problem will have cleared, so that’s one of the factors.

“The other is the wind speed and direction. At the moment the weather patterns are very volatile which is what is making it quite difficult, unlike last year, to predict where the ash will go.”

He added that the public should be assured that airlines would only operate when it was safe to do so.

“We are in a much better place this year because we have worked with airlines and regulators to build a regime that puts safety first, but with far more flexibility. We will not be imposing a blanket ban like the last government.

“Instead it is up to airlines to decide whether it is safe to fly in discussions with the CAA,” Hammond said.

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