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Aircraft Affected After Mt. Etna Erupts Beside Italian Airport

Aircraft Affected After Mt. Etna Erupts Beside Italian Airport


The largest airport on the Italian island of Sicily — Catania Fontanarossa Airport (CTA) — re-opened on May 22 following the eruption of Mount Etna.


Photo: AeroXplorer | Daniel Mena



Mount Etna's Latest Eruption


In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 21, the tallest volcano in Europe, Mount Etna, began to erupt. The eruption, which was the most active in 30 years, spewed hundreds of tons of volcanic ash into the atmosphere above Sicily. This prompted  ENAC, the Italian aviation authority, to decide to close most of the airspace above Sicily due to the threat that volcanic ash poses to aviation.


Photo: AeroXplorer | Aner Zarate


The area of closed airspace due to ash in the atmosphere included Sicily's largest airport of Catania Fontanarossa Airport (CTA). The city and airport are located extremely close to Mount Etna, just 35 kilometers (21 miles) from the mountain's volcanic basin.




It is due to this that shortly after the eruption, a thick layer of volcanic ash began to settle around the city of Catania and the surrounding area of the volcano. At this point, airport operations had already been suspended due to the anticipation of the settling of ash onto airport premises, and ash in the airspace surrounding Fontanarossa airport. 


Threats of Volcanic Ash


Volcanic ash poses an extreme threat to aircraft due to the finite and abrasive nature of the particles that comprise it. If an aircraft is flying through volcanic ash, the particles will typically rub against the fuselage, causing damage.



Photo: AeroXplorer | Lucas Wu


The abrasive nature of the particles can also damage an aircraft's windscreen (cockpit windows), and engine components such as the fan blades. This can severely hamper an aircraft's aerodynamics and ability to fly.


For example, if volcanic ash accumulates enough in an aircraft's engines, the sticky particles can clog the air intake, preventing the blades from spinning. 




Despite the closure of Catania's main airport, Falcone-Borsellino Airport (PMO) in the nearby city of Palermo remained open, with the airport's flights operating mostly on time.

The volcanic ash being ejected from Mount Etna was being blown from the volcano — which is on the Eastern coast of Sicily — out into the Mediterranean Sea. Since Catania is South-East of Mount Etna, it experienced a thick layer of volcanic ash, while Palermo did not experience any due to it being on the opposite side of the wind flow. 




Catania Airport (CTA) Re-Opened to Air Traffic at 9 AM. 


On the morning of May 22, the Italian aviation authority (ENAC) re-opened Sicilian airspace. At 7:00 a.m., an official announcement was made by Fontanarossa Airport through their social media accounts stating "...From 9 am the airport will be operational again and flight operations will be restored, with initial limitations...delays may occur..."




Photos shared to social media from Fontanarossa airport showed aircraft that had been stranded on the ground during the volcanic eruption. As for Fontanarossa airport's runway, it is most likely that the ash was cleared off via a combination of natural forces and runway plowing machines similar to those that clear snow in more northerly countries. 


A Ryanair Boeing 737-800 left on the ground during the eruption of Mount Etna at Catania's Fontanarossa Airport (CTA) | Photo: @aviationbrk via Twitter 


Following the eruption of Mount Etna and the re-opening of Fontanarossa Airport, no airlines that fly to Catania have made any public statements regarding their aircraft or operations at Catania. As of Thursday, May 25, 2022, it is not known whether or not airlines provided their passengers any additional accommodations and/or re-bookings due to the disruptions.

Adam Schupak
Hey there! I'm Adam, a passionate avgeek absolutely obsessed with everything that flies. I'm a student glider pilot, but have the ultimate ambition of become a commercial airline pilot. Besides aviation, I'm also passionate about urban design, civil engineering, and trains.

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