10 Years After The Eyjafjallajökull Eruption, Europe Is Grounded Again

Exactly ten years ago, on the 15th of April 2010, the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland had caused European airspace to come to a standstill. Nearly all flights in Europe and across the Atlantic Ocean were suspended for almost a week, as ash from the eruption of the volcano threatened flight safety. However, ten years later, we are seeing similar outcomes, as European airspace is empty again. This time, however, for a very different reason.

Eyjafjallajokull eruption
Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull eruptions led to the cancellation of all flights across Europe and the Atlantic. Photo: Boaworm via Wikimedia

What happened?

The eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland were a series of volcanic activities from March to June of 2010. Although the volcanic eruptions were relatively small, the effects had a hugely debilitating impact on the European airline industry. The massive volcanic plumes released on the 14th of April 2010, covered almost the entirety of Northern Europe and forced more than 20 countries to close their airspace. The closure resulted in 10 million passengers left stranded across the world.

The effects of the volcanic eruptions were felt mainly because of its magnitude. This, combined with its geographical location beneath one of the busiest airspaces in the world, exacerbated the problem.

Massive plumes from the explosion reached heights of 9 km (5.6 mi) with debris spread across most of Europe. This meant that the clouds were almost unavoidable for any given flight in or out of the continent. In total, the six-day flight ban resulted in the cancellation of 95,000 flights and a US$1.7 billion loss for the airline industry.

Why flights were grounded

The main reason why flights had to stop was due to the volcanic ash. Although it looks similar to an ordinary cloud, an ash plume is formed of many tiny particles of sediment. This sediment can have devastating effects on an aircraft and may even result in the failure of engines. This situation is relatable to that of British Airways Flight 9, which lost all four of its engines after entering volcanic ash over Indonesia in 1982.

Since then, there has been a lot of discussion among aviation authorities to assess safe flying circumstances in case of another volcanic eruption. Today, an aircraft is allowed to fly over an ash plume only if the ash density is between 2mg and 4mg per cubic meter.

Flybe was the first airline to conform to the new regulations relating to flight safety during volcanic eruptions. Photo: Aero Pixels via Wikimedia Commons.

Ten years later, a similar scene

Regrettably, the European airline industry has been grounded again. This time though, for a different reason. The spread of coronavirus has affected the airline industry worldwide. However, Europe has seen the most significant number of flight cancellations and economic losses.

One of the prime reasons for this is the number of COVID-19 cases across Europe. With over 957,551 cases, Europe as a whole is taking the brunt of this pandemic. The spread of coronavirus has led to an increase in travel restrictions and reduced passenger demand. As a result of this, airlines in Europe are currently operating at just 20% of the initially planned capacity.

However, recent trends are showing signs of improvement. With the number of daily cases dipping, we can hope for the airline industry to be back and running within the next few months.

Were you affected by the volcanic eruptions of 2010? Let us know your story in the comments.