What happens when a plane flies into volcanic ash?

So you’re cursing and swearing because your Bali plans got cancelled due to some silly volcano?

Well, don’t be.

Planes are designed very well, so it is not easy for jet engines to lose power. However, volcanic ash is one of the ways they can. Volcanic ash is like sandpaper. When a plane flies through it, it can cause the engines to shut down. The ash is sucked into the engines, melted by the heat from the engine and this melted ash then coats the inside of the engine causing engine failure.

Apart from engine failure, the gas created during eruptions can cause the plastic glass on the windows to degrade and slowly crack. As the windows in the cockpit become scratched, pilots will have difficulty seeing the runways and landing the plane safely.

Other effects include damaging control systems and contaminating the cabin, requiring passengers to use oxygen masks.

In the last 15 years, more than 80 commercial aircrafts unexpectedly encountered volcanic ash mid-flight. Out of this 15, 7 have lost engine power which nearly resulted in the crash of the aircraft.

So thank your lucky stars that your flight decided to cancel and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to warn against flights to Bali amidst Indonesian criticism.

Still not convinced? Here’s a nice little video by the Smithsonian Channel documenting what happened to this hapless aircraft.

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Samantha Wong

I'm a hobby writer!

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