Don’t worry, this is not a post about climate change, but one looking at three major challenges this summer has seen so far (and how to manage them)
Summer in Europe has been a hard one
I am not talking the usual summer challenges that we all expect and vaguely prepare for – hot passengers when the APU breaks down, thermals that mess up the landing, slots and strikes (every summer, without fail!).
I am talking some big nature related things (2 of the 3 might be a little bit about climate change). Here is a look at them, and some handy links to help you learn about them and build some readiness and resilience for them.
My first motivation to become a pilot was around the age of 7 when I developed a sudden fear of volcanoes and no-one thought to tell me England didn’t have any. Airplanes (I lived near an airport) seemed like a good way to escape if mega eruptions did start occurring, so I decided then that I wanted to be a pilot. I forgot about it for 10 years then decided around 17 that I did again (for more rational reasons).
Anyway, volcanoes are not summer specific, but the summer season (in Europe) does make them a harder one to manage because the airspace tends to be busier, airports tends to be more full, and so the disruption is often greater.
- In May 2023, an eruption by Mt Etna in Sicily impacted flights in the region, and temporarily closed LICC/Catania Fontanarossa due ash fall.
- LICC publishes its ash sector charts and text confirming changes to procedures to manage traffic flow in case of ash.
- Etna is a very active volcano
- Monitor via the Toulouse VAAC
- Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland has been erupting on and off throughout July. It is one of many active volcanoes in Iceland.
- Canary Islands have numerous active volcanoes across the main islands which can impact the major airports.
- GCLA/La Palma, GCTS/Tenerife and GCLP/Gran Canaria airport are all utilised as tech and diversion airports for the NAT
- In 2021, Cumbre Vieja (La Palma) eruption lasted 85 days and caused significant disruption
- Eastern Russian Federation volcanoes are worth monitoring as while the airspace is closed, the proximity to the North Atlantic means they can impact international flights.
- Sheveluch has been active through 2023, with red alerts issued in July and orange alerts current for August.
- Sheveluch can impact NAT flights due its position cloed to the Bering sea and NAT and Japanese airspace
- Monitor via the Kamchatka site.
- Campi Flegrei is a major volcano near Naples in Italy which is showing signs of a major eruption brewing.
- Shishaldin and Great Sitkin in the Aleutian Isles are both active.
- Proximity to NAT tracks could cause some disruption if ash blows a certain way
- Shishaldin ash currently at 30,000′ only (Aug 8)
Here are some resources and links to Volcanic procedures and contingency plan information:
The Volcanic ash and flight safety document is a go to manual for establishing procedures within operators for managing the risk of volcanic ash.
This forms part of Doc 006 which covers European and North Atlantic regions and it is filled with very helpful links to volcano monitoring stations, information on ASHTAMs and how eruptions will be managed. Unless the area if known, a danger zone of 60nm (120nm in the NAT) is created, with an addition area 30 minutes downwind (if winds >30kts occur).
It is also provides helpful guidelines for pilots on detecting volcanic ash inflight and what to do if it is encountered.
There are 9 VAACs – Anchorage, Buenos Aires, Darwin, Montreal, London, Tokyo, Toulouse, Washington and Wellginton. The NOAA website provides an easy way to access each.
ASHTAMs are produced via these.
- Know your procedures for identifying volcanic ash and procedures if it is encountered. Read Appendix 1 here
- Report any suspected ash to ATC, and record in the tech log
- Check SigWx charts and look for ASHTAMs in advance in case re-routings become required
- If operating into airports in the vicinity of active volcanoes, know if they have specific procedures and contingencies
I am talking the big stuff here, not just slightly gusty crosswinds which peeve you on landing. Summer 2023 has seen some nasty conditions occurring.
- Britain ‘brexits’ from Europe’s summer: Summer 2023 started out one of the hottest summers on record (topping 40°C for the first time on record) and then the wettest.
- The MET office has cautions in place for rain, wind and storms
- EGLL/London Heathrow and surrounding airports have experience significantly windy days leading to multiple diversions
- The major Atlantic jet stream has shifted bringing intense low pressure to the UK and with it unstable weather and heavy rain
- In 2022, extreme high temperatures led to runway damage at EGGW/Luton
- Extreme temperatures in Europe: The rest of Europe has experienced extremely high temperatures.
- Hot weather brings numerous operational challenges and performance considerations
- Increases in CAT are present across Europe and the North Atlantic due to changes in the gradient between the equatorial region and the polar region which has resulted in changes to the jet streams in these regions
- Increase severity of convective activity (big storms) is impacting Europe. Delays are around 20-22 minutes and weather was the highest contributor to delays in Europe.
- Eurocontrol Traffic reports provide a useful overview of delays bi-monthly
- Eurocontrol Daily Weather Assessment: This can be accessed by the NOP and contains severe weather alerts.
- A severe weather event is a storm, wind over 25kts, CBs with embedded lightning, snow & ice at airfields, which may lead to an ATM capacity reduction of 10% and greater or severe en-route traffic handling issues.
Medicanes are a Mediterranean cyclones which occur during the summer season over the west and central Mediterranean area and northern Africa.
They tend to only reach hurricane category 1 levels, but frequency and intensity has been increasing over the last few decades.
- Think about the challenges summer (hot weather conditions) bring
- Have an awareness of weather patterns and changing conditions
- Be aware of how weather causes delays and disruption, and be ready
- Consider your fuel requirements and performance
- Airports may amend procedures if impacted by high temperatures and performance limited aircraft operations
- Don’t assume summer is easier than winter!
Increasing temperatures are leading to an increase in wildfires across regions of Europe, and these have a significant impact on flight operations and travel and tourism in general.
- Major wildfires are causing significant disruption in Greece and Italy.
- LGRP/Rhodes and LGKR/Corfu have both seen disruption
- LICJ/Palermo temporarily closed
- LICC/Catania temporarily closed
- Fires near airports can result in decreased visibility
- Increased firefighting traffic is an additional hazard in airspace
- Evacuations may lead to airport restrictions and flight cancellations as flights supporting evacuations are prioritised
- Island airports and seasonal airports can have capacity restraints and reduce diversion options
- Significant ash particles can affect aircraft engines and performance, and as such may result in airspace closures
You can track European wildfires on the EFFIS website and the current situation ‘Copernicus’ viewer.
- Look out of Notams and other information on wildfires impacting airports and airspace
- Be aware of increases in ambient temperatures and thermal activity which may impact aircraft performance
- Report sightings of wildfires to ATC
- Listen and look out for firefighting traffic
- Ensure you have a Plan B in case an airport in the vicinity of fires is temporarily closes
- Monitor engine and aircraft system performance if operating close to fires and potential ash particles
EASA are launching the EN-ICCA (European network on impact of climate change on aviation). They also have a general ‘Summer readiness’ campaign and SIB worth reviewing (and with a whole lot more information than just he big three things I have mentioned).
The European Plan for Aviation Safety (Jan 2023) contained details of actions planned for managing increasing weather threats.
Eurocontrol also have a specific group for understanding climate change on aviation.