Journal article Open Access
Guffanti, Marianne; Mayberry, Gari C.; Casadevall, Thomas J.; Wunderman, Richard
Volcanic activity has caused significant hazards to numerous airports worldwide, with local to far-ranging effects on travelers and commerce. Analysis of a new compilation of incidents of airports impacted by volcanic activity from 1944 through 2006 reveals that, at a minimum, 101 airports in 28 countries were affected on 171 occasions by eruptions at 46 volcanoes. Since 1980, five airports per year on average have been affected by volcanic activity, which indicates that volcanic hazards to airports are not rare on a worldwide basis. The main hazard to airports is ashfall, with accumulations of only a few millimeters sufficient to force temporary closures of some airports. A substantial portion of incidents has been caused by ash in airspace in the vicinity of airports, without accumulation of ash on the ground. On a few occasions, airports have been impacted by hazards other than ash (pyroclastic flow, lava flow, gas emission, and phreatic explosion). Several airports have been affected repeatedly by volcanic hazards. Four airports have been affected the most often and likely will continue to be among the most vulnerable owing to continued nearby volcanic activity: Fontanarossa International Airport in Catania, Italy; Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska, USA; Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, Ecuador; and Tokua Airport in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea. The USA has the most airports affected by volcanic activity (17) on the most occasions (33) and hosts the second highest number of volcanoes that have caused the disruptions (5, after Indonesia with 7). One-fifth of the affected airports are within 30 km of the source volcanoes, approximately half are located within 150 km of the source volcanoes, and about three-quarters are within 300 km; nearly one-fifth are located more than 500 km away from the source volcanoes. The volcanoes that have caused the most impacts are Soufriere Hills on the island of Montserrat in the British West Indies, Tungurahua in Ecuador, Mt. Etna in Italy, Rabaul caldera in Papua New Guinea, Mt. Spurr and Mt. St. Helens in the USA, Ruapehu in New Zealand, Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, and Anatahan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (part of the USA). Ten countries—USA, Indonesia, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Italy, New Zealand, Philippines, Mexico, Japan, and United Kingdom—have the highest volcanic hazard and/or vulnerability measures for airports. The adverse impacts of volcanic eruptions on airports can be mitigated by preparedness and forewarning. Methods that have been used to forewarn airports of volcanic activity include real-time detection of explosive volcanic activity, forecasts of ash dispersion and deposition, and detection of approaching ash clouds using ground-based Doppler radar. Given the demonstrated vulnerability of airports to disruption from volcanic activity, at-risk airports should develop operational plans for ashfall events, and volcano-monitoring agencies should provide timely forewarning of imminent volcanic-ash hazards directly to airport operators.