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Volcano air disruption “near certain” to happen again says expert

altAccording to Dr Fred Prata, Head of Research at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, the likelihood of another volcano eruption seriously disrupting aviation is a “near certainty” but next time it can be better managed.

The disruption which cost the industry $3 billion in lost revenues could happen again, according to Dr Prata, who is delivering the keynote at a special session, part of the interactive discussion on lessons learned from the Icelandic volcano incident at the 2nd Doha Aviation Summit being held from October 30th - November 1st, 2010 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Doha

The event which is hosted by Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA), is endorsed by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al Thani, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar, has attracted aviation professionals from around the globe and will debate key issues likely to shape the future of the aviation industry.

Delegates will also learn that the technology being developed to enable aircraft to better navigate volcanic ash hazards can also be applied to similar situations involving sandstorms.

“There is always a chance of another Icelandic eruption; in fact it is a near certainty, but no one can tell you when or how big,” said Dr Prata who will be addressing delegates at the Doha Aviation Summit.

He added that the exact conditions that grounded aviation for so long in 2010 are unlikely to be repeated. More likely is a large eruption with short-term effects on trans-Atlantic flights, or an on-going small-scale event causing intermittent problems, perhaps over several months.

“It is very hard to predict exactly what might happen, but there is still real danger and economic impact for aviation,” said Dr Prata, who believes that the authorities over-reacted to the event earlier this year.

“In hindsight it appears we may have been able to navigate around the ash, but it is certain that there were dangerous levels in the air - but not everywhere.  I think we have learned a lot and the lines of communication (and trust) have been improved.”

Dr Prata is developing a system called AVOID that can be mounted on aircraft and which detects volcanic ash up to 100 kilometres away. A working system is six months away, said Dr Prata, who will be giving more details at the aviation summit.

He added that the system could be a useful tool in areas like the Middle East where sandstorms are a hazard. “The (Middle East) region is affected by sand storms which may be a problem for aviation and because of the similarity between wind-blown desert sand and volcanic ash, very similar solutions can be used.”

He also acknowledged the timing of the Doha event: “I think it is an excellent initiative and timely.  My past experience is that people tend to forget about the problem and some opportunities for learning and improvement are lost.  Doha will be very interesting.”

Nicholas Watson, Global Sales Director for event organisers naseba, said that the session on managing volcanic ash was just one of the major issues to be addressed at the event.

“If you recall the huge disruption caused by the volcanic eruption, came at a time when the airline industry was struggling to emerge from the effects of the global recession,” he said.

“This summit will address a range of critical issues, from the lessons learned from the recession to regulatory issues and the environment as the industry seeks to chart the way ahead,” said Watson

 

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