Need to Dodge Volcanic Ash? Ask an Alaskan
Alaska Airlines knows how avoid volcano chaos
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2010 5:43 AM CDT
An Alaska Airlines jet gets ready to take off from the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska.   (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
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(Newser) – That Icelandic volcano may have taught European airlines a lesson Alaska Airlines learned from Mount St. Helens 30 years ago. After its planes were grounded for days by the eruption in Washington state, the airline developed an effective way to navigate safely around volcanic ash. Its experience suggests that Europe's travel chaos could have been avoided with the right procedures, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Whenever a volcano erupts in Alaska, the airline scrambles to find safe routes for its aircraft by using computer models to predict the path of ash clouds and sending pilots up in empty planes to test the skyways. Its planes never take off, fly, or land in ash, although all its pilots go through simulations of ash encounters in training. "Even though they all know it's coming in the exercise, everyone says it's eye-opening how big an event it is when it happens," says the airline's fleet captain.