NOAA 2007-048
Contact: Kent Laborde
NOAA News Releases 2007
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Federal agencies involved with aviation, volcanoes and weather have created a new way to work together to track volcanic ash plumes and report the risks to the aviation community and keep air travelers out of harm’s way. Volcanic ash can cause aircraft engines to fail or damage navigational instruments.

“Our goal is to eliminate encounters with ash that could degrade the in-flight safety of aircrews and passengers and cause damage to the aircraft,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. ”This plan will help us detect, track and forecast hazardous ash clouds and adequately warn the aviation community on the present and future location of the cloud. Standardizing and coordinating these activities should significantly reduce danger.”

The plan, “National Volcanic Ash Operations Plan for Aviation,” will improve the safety of flight operations in U.S.-controlled airspace. It defines agency responsibilities, provides a comprehensive description of an interagency standard for volcanic–ash-related observations, advisories, warnings, notices, and forecasts, as well as their formats. It also describes the agency backup procedures for operational products, and outlines the actions each agency will follow during a volcanic eruption that subsequently affects aviation services.

“The United States is one of the most volcanically rich countries in the world with 169 active and dormant volcanoes," said Director of the U.S. Geological Survey Mark Myers. "Many of these volcanoes are capable of erupting explosively and ejecting volcanic ash high into busy air routes. When a volcanic ash hazard looms, advanced warning and coordinated efforts to share information among scientists, air traffic controllers, dispatchers and pilots can make a crucial difference in saving lives and protecting property. This plan helps achieve the goal of averting encounters of aircrafts with damaging ash clouds.”

“We want to greatly reduce the risk to aviation from airborne volcanic ash,” said Steven Osterdahl, director of enroute and oceanic operations in the FAA's Western Service Area. “The risks includes degraded engine performance, flameouts, loss of visibility, failure of critical navigational and operational instruments and loss of life.”

“The immediate costs for aircraft encountering a dense plume are potentially major,” said Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research, Samuel P. Williamson. “Damages up to $80 million have occurred to a single aircraft. Aircraft encountering less dense volcanic ash clouds can incur longer-term costs due to increased maintenance of engines and external surfaces.”

The plan was prepared and published by the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research after a series of working group meetings among the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Air Force, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The Air Line Pilots Association also participated in the development of the plan.

The plan can be found online at or by requesting a written copy at:

The Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology
8455 Colesville Road
Suite 1500
Silver Spring, MD 20910