Skies Above Hawaii Still Safe for Planes After Volcano Spews Ash

Airlines and aviation officials are keeping a close watch on the skies above Hawaii after the Kilauea volcano spewed ash 30,000 feet into the air this morning. There are temporary flight restrictions in place, but so far it doesn’t pose much of a risk to planes.

United Continental Holdings Inc. says flights are operating normally and local officials say the major airports are as well.

The flowing lava and noxious fumes have prompted evacuations across the Big Island, but the plume of ash that erupted early Thursday is mostly blowing out to sea and away from the other islands.

“The lighter particles are being carried off to the east,” said Kevin Kodama, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Honolulu. “Right now the rest of the chain are not seeing a whole lot of impacts.”

Volcanic ash particles act like sandpaper on aircraft, scoring windows and damaging engines, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. If ingested into a jet engine, the particles can melt and adhere to components in a “glassy glaze,” according to the agency.

This was the case when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, creating a plume of ash that drifted to the southeast over Europe. Air traffic across the Atlantic and in Europe was shut down for a week, affecting millions of passengers.

The story is different in Hawaii. In addition to the winds, rain in the area is also keeping some ash close to the Kilauea summit area, Michelle Coombs, a volcanologist with USGS said, in a video release.

Officials are keeping an eye on the situation.

“We have had temporary flight restrictions in place around the volcano, and have been changing them as circumstances warrant,” said Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration. “We are in the process of raising the ceiling of the restricted area to 30,000 feet from 10,000 feet.”

— With assistance by Eric Roston, Mary Schlangenstein, Alan Levin, and Ryan Beene