Alaska Airlines suspends 41 flights due to volcanic ash from Mount Pavlof

Alaska Airlines has canceled 41 flights to and from six cities in Alaska including all flights operating to and from Fairbanks due to a massive ash cloud from Mount Pavlof in the Aleutian chain that is moving north from the mountain at up to 75 mph.

Mount Pavlof, one of Alaska's most active volcanoes, is located 625 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula.

In addition to the flight cancellations, unaccompanied minors and pets traveling as cargo have been embargoed until weather conditions improve. The canceled flights affect 3,300 passengers. Mount Pavlof has been actively erupting since Sunday evening, March 27.

Flights to Wiley Post–Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Barrow (BRW), Bethel (BET), Fairbanks International (FAI), Ralph Wien Memorial Airport in Kotzebue (OTZ), Nome (OME) and Deadhorse Airport in Prudhoe Bay (SCC) have been suspended until the carrier is able to assess weather reports after daylight on Tuesday.

Alaska 737 departs SEA
Volcanic ash poses significant safety concerns to aircraft on the ground and in the air, as it limits visibility and damages engines, the airline said on its blog.

“Mount Pavlof has continued to push ash into the sky since it erupted [Sunday] night.,” John Ladner, Alaska’s director of operations, said in a statement. “Volcanic ash poses significant safety concerns to aircraft on the ground and in the air [and] we simply won’t fly where ash is present.”

The ash and the river of wind pushing the ash north and east has created a potential for ash encounters in flight so the airline has suspended evening flying in the affected cities and will resume operations when it can confirm through weather and pilot reports that it is safe to fly.

The adverse effects of volcanic ash on airline flights is well known and well documented.

On June 24, 1982, a British Airways Boeing (NYSE:BA) 747 flew into a cloud of volcanic ash thrown up by the eruption of Mount Galunggung, approximately 110 miles south-east of Jakarta, Indonesia. As a result, all four of the aircraft’s engines failed. The aircraft was able to glide far enough to exit the ash cloud, restart all four engines, and land safely at the Halim Perdanakusuma Airport (HLP) in Jakarta.

In December 1989 a KLM Boeing 747 flight from Amsterdam (AMS) to Anchorage (ANC) in Alaska lost power in all four engines after entering a cloud of ash from the erupting Mount Redoubt volcano in Alaska. The plane dropped more than two miles before the crew were able to restart the engines. The aircraft landed safely at ANC but needed millions of dollars’ worth of repairs, including the replacement of all four engines.

More than 20 aircraft were damaged by the ash cloud from the June 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. The cloud travelled more than 5,000 miles to the east coast of Africa.

If current conditions in Alaska improve, the airline will resume its 54 regularly scheduled flights to the affected six cities on March 29.

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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