Scientific advice and evidence in emergencies - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Rolls-Royce Plc (SAGE 36)

  Rolls-Royce has prepared the following submission in response to the request for evidence for the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry into scientific advice and evidence in emergencies. The committee posed five general questions in relation to the government's use of scientific advice and evidence in emergency situations. Of the four emergencies identified, the Icelandic volcanic eruption in 2010 has most direct relevance to Rolls-Royce. Having examined the events surrounding the eruption, we feel best qualified to answer three of the five questions.

  Rolls-Royce has relevant knowledge as a principal manufacturer of aero engines, with more than 13,000 engines currently in service with some 650 airlines.

Question 1: What are the potential hazards and risks and how were they identified?

  It is known that flying in ash clouds above a certain density poses a significant risk to the safety of passengers and flight crew. Following a small number of serious but non-fatal incidents some years ago, in particular, a British Airways incident over Indonesia in 1982, general guidance was drawn up by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) relating to safe flight in areas of volcanic ash. This guidance dictated that where volcanic ash could be detected pilots should "avoid" the hazard.

  Since then, industry practice has been to avoid flying in areas where visible ash is present. This regime has enabled safe flying in volcanic areas for many years. However, since these conventions were established, computer modelling has allowed the presence of volcanic ash to be predicted at far lower levels of concentration, and at distances far greater from the eruption than the immediate proximity to a visible plume. Put simply, regulation had not kept pace with technology, leading to confusion over the level of detectable volcanic ash that should be avoided. The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano exposed this tension.Consequently when the Icelandic eruption occurred, and Meteorological Office computations predicted the presences of volcanic ash over large parts of Europe, the CAA acted upon the interpretation of the ICAO procedures that any level of detectable ash should be avoided and closed UK airspace. The disruption to travel and business has been well documented. Discussions between the various authorities, regulators, airlines and engine manufacturers subsequently agreed to a "safe to fly" limit of up to and including 2X10-3 g/m3, thus establishing a common base of understanding that allowed European airspace to be systematically re-opened.

Question 2: How does/did the Government use scientific advice and evidence to identify, prepare for and react to an emergency?

  The events following the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption demonstrate the importance of rigorous process, and robust data. The release of volcanic ash into airspace should invoke quick, definitive and systematic action among key stakeholders. These actions should be defined and agreed to, creating a process that includes data collection and processing, hazard and risk analysis, information management, coordination between relevant bodies and clear communication.

  It is important that in the future, volcanic activity is monitored appropriately, while more work needs to be done to validate and improve computer modeling. In the event of volcanic unrest a rigorous process needs to be followed to proactively prepare for an eruption.

Question 5: How important is international coordination and how could it be strengthened?

  Aviation is a global industry and the threat of disruption from volcanic eruptions is present throughout the world, therefore it is essential to achieve international coordination. Regulatory bodies such as FAA and EASA must work closely with bodies that govern sovereign airspace (such as the CAA in the UK) during emergency situations. The matrix of stakeholders and regulatory bodies that play a part in emergency situations can quickly become complex. This emphasises the need to work with international bodies, specifically ICAO and its International Volcanic Ash Task Force (IVATF). International collaboration, if well coordinated, will provide opportunities to share best practice among scientific bodies, governments, regulators and businesses. Each region of the world is likely to have unique needs and abilities related to monitoring volcanic activity and evaluating scientific data in the event of an eruption. Yet regardless of regional differences, the processes followed and the technologies utilized to evaluate the safety of airspace will be similar. International collaboration is essential to ensure that all the European and UK airspace is properly managed in emergency situations that affect a number of countries. As each country in Europe may not necessarily have the highest level of expertise or technology available to assess the presence of ash in the airspace, collaboration would provide a benefit to travellers and industry alike. As airframers, airlines and engine manufacturers are international businesses with products operating around the world, it is important that there is consistency in the standards of notification and engagement in the event of an eruption.


  The Icelandic eruptions demonstrate the potential of volcanic ash to severely disrupt the business and family lives of millions of people, and to inflict significant economic damage well beyond the aviation industry. Rolls-Royce has relevant expertise, and would be more than willing to participate in establishing best practice in preparing appropriate responses to future volcanic activity.

Rolls-Royce Plc

17 September 2010

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 2 March 2011