Consistent with the mandate of the European Air Navigation Planning Group (EANPG) Programme Coordinating Group (COG) and the North Atlantic (NAT) Systems Planning Group (SPG) Implementation Management Group (IMG), the Volcanic Ash Exercises Steering Group (VOLCEX/SG) for the EUR and NAT Regions was established to initiate and maintain a programme of regular volcanic ash exercises in the EUR/NAT Regions. One of the main goals of these exercises is to test the Volcanic Ash Contingency Plan (VACP) for the EUR and NAT Regions (EUR Doc 019, NAT Doc 006, Part II) which was recently merged in July 2016. Typically, one exercise called VOLCEX is planned and conducted by the VOLCEX/SG each year.

The objective of these exercises is to improve the response to volcanic eruptions and volcanic ash contamination by the relevant national supervisory authorities, service providers and airspace users as well as improve the common volcanic ash contingency plan for the EUR and NAT Regions.

VOLCEX17, which took place from 29 to 30 November 2017, simulated a volcano eruption in the Azores in Portugal which produced a simulated volcanic ash cloud that impacted the Mediterranean States as well as a large part of continental Europe, United Kingdom and portions of the Middle East. A total of 33 airline operators, IATA, AOCCC (Aircraft Operator Crisis Coordination Cell), EACCC (European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell), Network Manager (NM), 14 Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), 12 Meteorological Watch Offices (MWOs), 8 NOTAM Offices, 11 Regulators, Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) Toulouse and VAAC London (backup) and 8 other organizations participated in the exercise.

Recommendations from the VOLCEX17 debrief meeting that took place on 16 January 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal, can be found in the summary of discussions on the ICAO portal under the group name “VOLCEXSG” and folder ‘VOLCEX17 dbr VOLCEX18 plan’. Some of these recommendations, such as: “strictly follow the use of Danger Areas for volcanic ash as described in the EUR/ NAT VACP” were included in the VOLCEX18 objectives.

The VOLCEX18 planning meeting that took place on 17 January 2018 in Lisbon agreed to exercise a simulated eruption of a volcano in Iceland called Oraefajokoll. VOLCEX18 will take place on 28 November 2018 and is expected to impact a significant part of the EUR Region in addition to the NAT Region. As the details of the plume are not yet known, the next newsletter will contain an article on VOLCEX18.

This article was originally written for the ICAO EUR/NAT Office’s Newsletter (Issue 3) on May 2018. A full list of their newsletters can be found here