Air Traffic Safety: Vanuatu under NZ Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre

The New Zealand Metservice plays an important role in the monitoring volcano in Vanuatu, as they are the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC Wellington) for the region air traffic safety, one of only 9 centres around the world as shown in the map below.

If any of these volcanoes (or any others within the area of responsibility) were to emit a significant amount of ash during an eruption this would pose a threat to air traffic safety, and appropriate warnings would need to be issued to ensure the safety of aircraft and their occupants.

The Wellington Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) is one of nine VAACs that operate under an international system called the International Airways Volcano Watch (IAVW), set up and co-ordinated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The function of each of the nine centres under the IAVW is to respond to reports of volcanic ash within their region and provide forecasts to the aviation community of ash cloud extent and movement.

Observations may come from ground stations and Volcano observatories, aircraft in flight or orbiting satellites and the ash warnings issued are in the form of Volcanic Ash Advisories and SIGMETs describing the current and future extent of ash

Volcanic ash constitutes a serious threat to aircraft operations primarily due to the effect of the corrosive gases and abrasive particles on aircraft engines and airframe and in addition to loss of engine performance or even flameout, ash effects may include instrument and radio failure, visibility problems and damage to other external flying components as well as contamination of the aircraft interior.

Such potentially serious and expensive damage is best prevented by avoiding flying through ash altogether, and over recent years, improvements in observation networks, satellite technology, computer modelling and our increased understanding of the phenomena have led to improved volcanic ash forecasting methods.

MetService meteorologist are monitoring these images which come into the forecast room every ten minutes and with the help of pilots and local observers on the ground, as well as our satellite imagery, we can conclude that a Volcanic Ash Advisory (VAA) is not currently required, however, Metservice is working closely with the Vanuatu Geo-Hazards Department, as well as New Zealand’s own Geo-Hazards team at GNS, to monitor the situation in case it changes.

The Wellington Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre area of responsibility covers the area:

  • From the Equator to 14S between 160E and 163E
  • The triangle enclosed by 14S 161°15’E – 17°50’S 163E – 14S 163E – 14S 161°15’E
  • From the Equator to the South Pole between 163E to 140W
  • Southward of 10S between 140W and 90W
  • The Wellington VAAC is operated by MetService on behalf of the New Zealand Meteorological Authority (CAA NZ), and is located in Wellington, New Zealand. The Wellington
  • Meteorological Watch Office (MWO) is co-located with the Wellington VAAC. The Wellington MWO issues SIGMETs for the two New Zealand FIRs, NZZC (New Zealand FIR) and NZZO (Auckland Oceanic FIR).

A local enhancement of the Wellington VAAC, the New Zealand Volcanic Ash Advisory System (VAAS) is primarily provided for the New Zealand FIR through interactions of aircraft operators, Airways NZ, Meteorological Service of New Zealand limited (MetService), GNS Science Limited and the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAA).