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Volcanic Ash and Airplane Jet Engines

A disruption in flights due to the problem of volcanic ash is not new to the airline world. Though many are first hearing about this due to the recent news event from the Iceland volcanic eruption, it has been a problem in the past and is not isolated. The volcanic ash eruptions form a cloud about six to eleven kilometers high-where most commercial airlines fly.


The most recent, being the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajokull glacier in, Iceland has been more widely discussed due to the popularity of internet searches and youtube videos. Volcanic ash contains particles of pulverized glassy rocks, sands that are less than 2mm in diameter. The ash creates a haze, which makes it difficult for planes to fly.

Apart from the haze, aircrafts face many problems due to the ash. Ash not only affects the vision but also damages the interior and exterior of the place. Explained below are some effects on the various parts of the planes body

Exterior: Forward facing surfaces, such as landing lights and wing leading edges are damaged or scratched due to the rough particles.

Corrosion: Various gases present in the ash as sulphur dioxide can cause damage to plastic, rubber and other metal components present on the outer surface. Eroded turbine blades lead to reduction in performance.

Engine: It was previously assumed that since ash is very fine it should pass right through the engine blades. Engines however operate at a very high temperature of up to 2000 Celsius. This temperature is enough to melt the glass like particles within the ash. These melted particles from a thick vicious liquid, which can clog the interior of the engine, block the fuel nozzles, and restrict the airflow. This results in loss of thrust or can even cause engine to fail. Some pilots try to cool down the engines by dropping height to get the liquid to solidify so that engines can expel the solids. However, this can be very dangerous as the engines will be damaged by volcanic ash and even the solids can cause the turbine to damage.

Instruments: One flying problems due to volcanic ash, which the pilots face, is that the ash blocks the pilot tube, which is used to measure the airspeed. Aircraft could stall if the pilot does not know how fast it is going.

Cabin: The air quality in cabin is impaired due to volcanic ash.

Cockpit: The vision from the cockpit is obscured by the cloud. The ash also causes windshield abrasion.

Flying problems due to volcanic ash not only damages the airplane and makes it dangerous to fly; it also causes a lot of discomfort to passengers. The recent eruptions caused a big backlog of passengers for the airlines. The volcanic cloud has disrupted the flights for weeks. This has also caused a great loss for the tourism industry. It is not only the countries where the ash has erupted who have been affected but also the countries all over the world, which are suffering the loss.

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1 Comment so far

  1. Jackson Girl on June 13th, 2010

    I didn’t realize that the ash can obscure vision and have so many problems for flights. GOod thing they delayed some in the UK a while ago. This is not good but with the ocean and so many other problems it’s hard to keep track of all the disaster.

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