Memorandum submitted by Rolls-Royce Plc
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
17 September 2010