Transport | 18. April 2010 | posted by Jan Wörner

A volcanic eruption affects the whole of Europe – part 2

After air traffic over Europe largely came to a standstill on Friday, and the public is increasingly discussing the question of how to judge the situation. At the same time, responsibility, expertise and effective actions in a problematic situation are confused.

DLR has research expertise, for example at its Institute for Atmospheric Physics, and the necessary facilities – with its Falcon 20E research aircraft - which make a further assessment of atmospheric situation atmosphere possible.

Once the widespread effect on air travel became obvious on Friday, DLR scientists in Oberpfaffenhofen immediately began to investigate the situation and to make arrangements for a flight of the Falcon 20E. DLR has a large fleet of research aircraft, which are prepared, in each case, for the particular task to be undertaken. For the investigation of volcanic ash in the atmosphere, different instruments are installed on board – for example LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) – as for flights for ice investigation over Spitzbergen. Despite it being the weekend, DLR staff began work immediately and made continuous progress.

DLR Falcon 20E D-CMETIn addition to the scientific, technical and flight planning work such as equipment inspection and installation, and test and mission planning, questions concerning permissions had to be clarified at the same time in order to receive authorisation for the measurement flight from the German Federal Aviation Agency. Under normal circumstances, this takes much longer. Everything seems to be clarified now, so hopefully the measurement flight can be accomplished tomorrow – Monday, 19 April. DLR also coordinated this application with Secretary of State Scheuerle of the German Federal Ministry of Transport, who made an urgent request to DLR by telephone early on Sunday for the earliest possible deployment. Such a flight is anything but a routine task, so one can, for the moment, only hope that it is possible to collect reliable data for a comprehensive assessment of the situation.

The current process again demonstrates the correctness of the arguments that DLR has put forward repeatedly on various topics. If the public expects rapid and reliable information in a difficult situation such as a crisis or a disaster, then the necessary organisation and the associated emergency provisions have to be planned and financed in parallel with the research activities. Not only the competence of the scientists, but all the participants in such a mission – from the mechanic to the pilots up to the institute director – are the people who make sure that the appropriate data acquisition and evaluation of the most recent conditions is possible and can take place. With regard to space research at DLR, we have ZKI, the Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information. For ongoing activities, as the example of the volcanic eruption and its consequences shows, there is a high demand. In the current situation, instead of looking for guilty parties in each place, it is – in addition to solving the present problem – worthwhile to create an infrastructural setup that enables rapid actions and makes it possible to bring in the special expertise of DLR and other establishments – and not only scientific ones. In this regard I will contact the responsible authorities in the next days.

It is also very important for me to offer enormous thanks to the DLR employees who have made great personal efforts since Friday to create the conditions for a successful use of the Falcon 20E. They deserve thanks, and not unwarranted criticism due to unfortunate, blatant media attention!

Translated from the German original.

Upper image: Eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull on Iceland on 17 April 2010. Source: NASA GSC/Flickr

Lower image: DLR Falcon 20E research aircraft D-CMET. Source: DLR


About the author

The ‘Jan Wörner’ blog was written by Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ Wörner during his time as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). Jan Wörner wrote all the posts himself and then sent them to DLR Corporate Communications for editing, picture research and online publication. to authorpage