FAAM BAe 146 refit hampers ash cloud crisis response


Extraordinarily unfortunate timing had the FAAM’s BAe 146 in the hangar when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajoekull volcano erupted on 14 April, sending a plume of ash over Europe. BAe 146-301ARA G-LUXE (msn E3001) is one of only two aircraft with instrumentation that could have helped assess the concentration of ash in the air, and thus the danger it posed to aircraft. The other, a Dornier 228, was unable to reach the altitudes of most interest, where the bulk of air traffic is concentrated. However, G-LUXE had been undergoing blister bay modifications since 1 April, work which was not scheduled to be completed before 29 April. As a result, the Meteorological Office had to rely on theoretical models of ash spread in making the decision to close UK airspace — a decision that was then followed by other European countries. FAAM scrambled to get G-LUXE back in the air, and was able to fly a first mission on 20 April. The flight first took G-LUXE along a track up the western coast of the UK, over the Irish Sea and the west coast of Scotland. Multiple runs were made along this track, above and below the level of the ash layer, using G-LUXE’s LIDAR to measure ash density. After refuelling at Prestwick, a second series of measurements was made along a track down the eastern coast of the UK, over the North Sea. Additional missions were flown on 21 April and 22. Data from these missions demonstrated that the concentration of the ash plume was low, allowing flights to resume.

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