UN to work on standards for ashes in jet engines

UNITED NATIONS – The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said Tuesday it will start work on setting global standards for the concentration of ashes that could affect airplane engines.

Raymond Benjamin, secretary-general of the U.N. agency responsible for aviation safety, said ICAO convened a special meeting of its governing council Monday on ash standards following the global disruption to air travel caused by the ash plume from a volcano in Iceland.

He said the council decided to convene a group including representatives from industry, manufacturers, governments, scientists, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) “to start working on these standards.”

The Montreal-based agency, which has 190 members, operates nine stations around the world that monitor ashes from volcanos, like Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull, which erupted April 14, causing the cancellation of thousands of flights and creating chaos for travelers.

ICAO’s President Roberto Kobeh Gonzales said the information from the stations is sent to governments that then have to decide whether it’s safe to allow planes to fly.

“The states are responsible for safety following the standards of ICAO,” he said. “We have standards of minimum of visibility, minimum of ceiling. … There are no standards at this moment for what is the concentration of ashes that could affect the engines.”

Kobeh cautioned that “it’s not easy to develop a standard” because “there are many variables.”

Benjamin explained that “if you ask a manufacturer of engines, ‘What is the concentration of ashes that your engine can sustain?’, he will not answer you because it’s a matter of liability.”

Two days ago, IATA said it could fly, but many governments kept their airspace closed until Tuesday, when they felt it was safe to send passenger flights into the air, Benjamin said.