ICAO VOLCEX21 planned for November 2021
As an anniversary of sorts, the Volcanic Ash Exercise 2020 (VOLCEX20) was planned as a reenactment of the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano (Iceland) in April 2010. For well know reasons the VOLCEX20 was canceled last year, but it is coming back on the 16th of November 2021.
Since one of the goals of using a real event scenario is to compare and see if 11 years later the industry is better prepared for such an occurrence, VOLCEX21 is going to use the scenario of a real event, the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. This will show whether the conclusions drafted, the experience gathered since 2010 and the subsequent changes to procedures and coordination have improved the way in which we would handle a similar event on all levels.
The objectives of the exercise are multifaceted, ranging from interstate and regional coordination, such as enforcing the EUR/NAT Volcanic Ash Contingency Plan, up to state level, in which states test their national procedures in accordance with the ICAO plan as well as local procedures for ANSPs.
The exercise also gives an opportunity to test the dissemination of aeronautical data related to volcanic ash towards the aviation community. For participating operators this will be a chance to apply and test their own procedures and processes.
Most European states have agreed to not close their airspace due to volcanic ash, as it happened with the eruption of Eyjafjellajökul in 2010. Hence, having a functioning process and a well-established contingency plan in case of a new volcanic ash event is perhaps even more important now than it was 11 years ago. Following the work of European Commission, Eurocontrol and Air Operator representatives, most states’ airspace will therefore remain open. Nevertheless, flying will only be possible after a risk assessment has been conducted, analyzing the effects of the ash concentration on the safety of operations. In this case, the operational decision lies with the operator and not the state.
The VOLCEX21 exercise will simulate a continuous eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, on the 16th November from 0800UTC to 1600UTC. The eruption will impact the North Atlantic, most of Europe as far east as the Russian Federation and as far south as the Mediterranean Sea.
An invitation to Air Operators to participate in the exercise will be published in July 2021 by ICAO, and should provide a good opportunity to test and practice your own procedures and contingency plans. EBAA intends to participate, as previously done, by manning the Air Operators Crisis Coordination Cell (AOCCC) station in the Network Manager operations centre together with other Air Operator representatives.