Volcanic Ash and Aviation

Volcanic Ash and Aviation

By: Warren Qualley

In 1980, When all four engines on British Airways flight 9 in 1982 shut down, the crew was baffled. They couldn’t quite figure out what had happened. Shortly after the initial shut down, Captain Eric Moody, made the following announcement, which was a masterpiece of understatement: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.” It turns out, that the shutdown was due to volcanic ash from Mount Galunggung. This volcano is about 100 miles southeast of Jakarta, Indonesia. The flight was near 35,000 feet (msl) when this occurred and drifted down to about 13,500 feet (msl) before the crew could re-start the engines. The full story can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Airways_Flight_9

Similar to Galunggung, Sarychev Volcano in Russia’s Kuril Islands is one of hundreds of volcanoes located in what is known as the Ring of Fire, which stretches nearly 25,000 miles around the Pacific Ocean basin. It arcs from near New Zealand through Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan across the North Pacific, the western U.S., Central America and down the west coast of South America. Here’s a link to short video of the 2009 eruption of Sarychev Volcano taken from the International Space Station: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Riauw5UTnW8. The ash is the grayish cloud, with the white clouds made up of water droplets.

The ash from volcanos can fill the sky for miles and can be extremely corrosive. It can damage windows, homes, and as it turns out, aircraft engines! The amazing meteorological effects of volcanic ash are one of the earth’s greatest phenomena’s, but also one of the scariest.

Fortunately, British Airways flight 9 did land safely in Jakarta and there were no injuries, but this event and others like it since underscore the danger of volcanic ash to aircraft. Therefore, countries around the world monitor volcanic activity and issue warnings so that these encounters with ash can be avoided.


Social media Summary: Most of us know about your typical weather, windy, rainy, and sunny, but what some people don’t know is that volcanic ash is also part of meteorology! Learn about volcanic ash and how it can impact normal everyday flights.