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Does Your Flight Training School Teach You About Volcanoes?

VolcanoLondon – Many European flights took to the skies yesterday for the first time in days but the chaos is far from over. London’s airports were still closed, a massive backlog was growing and scientists feared yet another volcanic eruption in Iceland. Airports in London – including Heathrow, the busiest in Europe – won’t reopen until today (4/21/10) and forecasters said more delays were possible if the volcanic ash cloud stayed over the country. Still, it was the first day since Iceland’s big volcano erupted last week that travelers were given a glimmer of hope.

“Everyone was screaming in the airplane from happiness,” said Savvas Toumarides of Cyprus, who finally arrived in New York after being stuck in Amsterdam for five days.

“The situation today is much improved,” said Brian Flynn, deputy head of Eurocontrol, the organization that supports air traffic across the European skies.

How Volcanic Ash Threatens Aircraft

Volcanoes are not a hypothetical hazard, they are a real and serious threat. There have been over 100 encounters of aircraft with ash clouds since the early 1970s, and the majority of these have involved aircraft damage.
In 1989, a KLM Boeing 747 flew into an ash cloud near Mt. Redoubt in Alaska. Within 60 seconds, microscopic volcanic glass shards shut down all four of the engines. With 245 passengers on board, the plane plummeted 13,000 ft before the pilots managed to restart engines and steer the damaged craft to an emergency landing. Since the 1970s, eight planes are known to have lost engines. Six known airplane-ash encounters have occurred over the last 12 months. Here are the different kinds of damage that volcanic ash can cause to an aircraft :

Ash can “blind” pilots by sandblasting the windscreen requiring an instrument landing. Sandblasting can damage the fuselage, coat the plane and damage the landing lights, making their beams diffuse and unable to be projected in the forward direction. Propellor aircraft are also endangered.

Lack of Oxygen
Simple lack of oxygen is given as a probable cause of engine failure.

Clogging of the Plane’s Sensors
Accumulation of ash can also block an aircraft’s pitot tubes. This can lead to failure of the aircraft’s air speed indicators.

Electromagnetic Wave Insulation
Volcanic ash particles are charged and disturb communication by radio.

Combustion Power Failure
Volcanic ash damages machinery. The effect on jet aircraft engines is particularly severe as large amounts of air are sucked in during combustion operation, posing a great danger to aircraft flying near ash clouds. Very fine volcanic ash particles sucked into a jet engine melt at about 1,100 °C, fusing onto the blades and other parts of the turbine. They can erode and destroy parts, drive it out-of-balance, and cause jams in rotating machinery.

This often causes a jet engine to cut out and failure of all of a plane’s engines is common. The standard emergency procedure when jet engines begin to fail had been to increase power, which makes the problem worse. The best procedure is to throttle back the engines, and to lose height so as to drop below the ash cloud as quickly as possible. The inrush of cold, clean air is usually enough to cool, solidify, and shatter the glass, unclogging the engines.

Now you see why – in spite of all the money that was lost because of the Iceland volcano – safety always comes first in aviation.

There are only a few flight training schools in the world who teach you everything you need to know about aviation – including the threat of volcanoes. Make sure you find a flight training school that gives you a complete flight training education.

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