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Unplanned entry into previously unalerted area of forecast volcanic ash

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has been advised of the unintentional entry of a Qantas A380 aircraft, registered VH-OQG and operating as QFA094, into a forecast area of potential volcanic ash. The aircraft was en route from Los Angeles in the United States to Melbourne Airport, Victoria via a route that was previously forecast to be clear of volcanic ash.

It was reported that, while cruising at flight level (FL)[1] 400 and approaching position 27° south and 177° east, the flight crew were advised by air traffic services (ATS) personnel of the release of an updated SIGMET[2]. That SIGMET indicated that an ash cloud had moved further north than previously advised.

The flight crew requested and were cleared by ATS to climb to FL 410 and to deviate from track to clear the area. It was estimated that the aircraft spent about 15 minutes in the revised area of potential volcanic ash. The flight crew advised that there was no visual or other indication of their encountering any ash.

On arrival in Melbourne, the aircraft was subjected to an engine inspection with no fault found. The aircraft was released to service.

The initial reports of this incident indicate a routinely reportable matter under the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003. The ATSB's initial examination of the circumstances of the occurrence does not disclose any issues that might affect the future safety of aviation operations.

On that basis, the initiation of a transport safety investigation is unlikely. However, the ATSB will consider the aircraft operator's more detailed formal notification of the occurrence before any final determination of whether to initiate an investigation.

[1] Level of constant atmospheric pressure related to the datum of 013.25 hPa, expressed in hundreds of feet. FL 400 equated to 40,000 ft above mean sea level.

[2] Information that concerns the occurrence or expected occurrence, in an area over which a meteorological watch is being maintained, of any of a number of prescribed phenomena. Those phenomena included a volcanic ash cloud.

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Last update 04 January 2013