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Brussels, 23 May 2011

Volcanic ash — Grimsvötn eruption

There is an evolving situation with respect to Grimsvötn volcano and a possibility of volcanic ash affecting European airspace, starting with northwestern Europe, including the UK and Ireland. Already, the EACCC (European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell) has been activated bringing together all the major actors – the first formal meeting took place this morning (23 May 2011). Guidance will be issued to all Member States by the EACCC later today.

European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said: "Volcanos don't obey any rules and this is a situation that is evolving by the hour What is clear however is that, one year on, lessons have been learnt and we are in a much better position to manage the challenge of ash affecting Europe. As the situation evolves, this may still prove to be a very challenging week for passengers and the aviation sector, but there are new tools in place that allow for a more precise risk assessment to avoid, in so far as possible, closure of European airspace whilst ensuring safety".


It is very difficult to predict the precise timing or indeed to go beyond or make predictions as to how ash will affect other parts of the EU because of a changing weather situation. This is because of the volcano itself – the eruption has just begun and we cannot predict the volume of ash that will emerge, as well as the fact that, the nature of the ash itself is different to what we saw one year ago.

Over the last year, intensive work has been carried out at international and European level to revise procedures to manage ash – including the revision of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) ash contingency plans for Europe, as well as the establishment of new European crisis cell, and intensive work on ash thresholds. See MEMO/11/235 for details.

Since the Grimsvötn volcano eruption this weekend, those new processes have been activated to minimise possible disruption.

Already, the EACCC (European Aviation Crisis Co-ordination Cell) has been activated bringing together all the major actors – the first formal meeting took place this morning (18 May 2011). The EACCC will issue today guidance to Member States recommending that they adopt a revised approach in line with the new guidance material for Europe developed by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation).

This approach allows airlines to decide if they will fly in areas with areas contaminated by ash, on the basis of a safety risk assessment accepted by the relevant national supervisory authorities. These are the necessary tools to help airlines and Member States decide if it is safe to fly or not. This is a much more precise approach to avoid closure of European Airspace whilst ensuring safety. As the situation is constantly evolving, the European Commission, EUROCONTROL and EASA will continue to provide all relevant information to national authorities to enable them to take the best possible decisions on how to manage safety in their national airspace in the interest of the travelling public.

Passenger rights will apply in the event we have a disruption. Even in these kinds of exceptional circumstances, airlines have an obligation to provide information, re-routing or re-imbursement of ticket price, and care. At all times passengers are asked to make reasonable claims in what are extremely difficult circumstances for all concerned. And passengers should always check flight information before they travel to the airport, to avoid where possible unnecessary disruption.

European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas will have contacts with ministerial colleagues later today to share information and to share assessments of how we can ensure safety while keeping airspace open. In particular, it is essential if there is disruption that national authorities provide clear information on re-routing alternative means of travel.

See also: joint statement by the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC), co-chaired by EUROCONTROL and the European Commission:

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