Volcanic Ash

For the event of a volcanic eruption within or in the vicinity of the European Airspace Region, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) has defined measures applicable for all Swiss AOC-Holders. These measures are based on guidance and recommendations of ICAO, Eurocontrol and EASA.   

In order to achieve a common approach for aircraft operation during a volcanic eruption in Europe, Eurocontrol and EASA have developed guidelines based on recommendations from ICAO. FOCA has adopted these guidelines and they are applicable to all Swiss operators of turbine-powered aircraft in the event of volcanic ash contamination.

Key Principles for Operating in Contaminated Airspace

  • In the event of volcanic ash contamination in European airspace, the Member States will not close their airspace to air traffic. Airspace closure will be an action of last resort.

  • The operator is responsible for the safety of its operations under the oversight of their respective State regulatory authority.
  • If an operator intends to plan flights into airspace forecast to be, or aerodromes known to be, contaminated with volcanic ash (low, medium or high level of contamination), the operator must have in place an identifiable safety risk assessment (SRA) covering the volcanic cloud hazard within its Safety Management System (SMS).

  • The operator's SRA must be accepted by its State regulatory authority (FOCA for Swiss AOC-holders) before operation in such areas may be planned.
  • The safety control measures set out in ICAO Doc 9974 and EASA Safety Information Bulletin (SIB) are intended to be sufficiently robust that they facilitate acceptance, without further investigation, by a State whose airspace is forecast to be affected by volcanic ash. The State can - based on the implementation of internationally accepted Safety Management principles - be confident in the ability of operators from other States to undertake operations safely in its airspace.


Contamination Levels

The categories of contamination are defined as low, medium and high levels of contamination:

  • Area of low contamination (displayed in Cyan): Airspace of defined dimensions where volcanic ash may be encountered at concentrations equal to or less than 2 x 10-3 g/m3.
  • Area of medium contamination (displayed in Grey): Airspace of defined dimensions where volcanic ash may be encountered at concentrations greater than 2 x 10-3 g/m3, but less than 4 x 10-3 g/m3.
  • Area of high contamination (displayed in Red): Airspace of defined dimensions where volcanic ash may be encountered at concentrations equal to or greater than 4 x 10-3 g/m3, or areas of contaminated airspace where no ash concentration guidance is available.

In the case of a volcanic event, ash concentration charts and advisories may be found on the London VAAC (northern Europe) and Toulouse VAAC (Europe, Africa & Middle East) internet pages. Additional information will be found on the CFMU - Network Operations Portal and will be updated at regular intervals.


SRA Application in Switzerland

Upon acceptance of the provided SRA, FOCA will allow Swiss AOC-holders to make decisions on operating in forecast areas of low, medium and high ash contamination based on their SRA.

Common SRA Recognition

As part of its overall decision-making process regarding the operation of aircraft in airspace forecast to be, or aerodromes known to be, contaminated with volcanic ash, Switzerland will allow aircraft operators registered in other States to base their decisions on their SRA, as accepted by their State regulatory authority.

Reporting

Indications on ash encounters inflight may be found in ICAO Doc 9974 (PDF, 586 kB, 29.08.2014). Any encounter with volcanic ash has to be reported immediately to the ATS Unit providing service in that airspace. Operators shall - in addition to the established reporting to FOCA - report any encounter with volcanic ash also to EASA directly, address: report@easa.europa.eu, with the available reporting form (see below).


Further information

https://www.bazl.admin.ch/content/bazl/en/home/flugbetrieb/weitere-themen/volcanic-ash.html