Mount Tavurvur, a volcano in Papua, New Guinea, has erupted, possibly creating dangerous conditions for airlines. This event could affect millions of air travelers as flights may be re-routed or canceled if the eruption becomes more severe.

On 29 August, the volcano came to life, spewing ash and dust high into the air. Some of the material spewing from Tavurvur shot up to 60,000 feet above the volcano, through commercial airspace. By the following day, geological activity had subsided, but debris continued to rise from the mountain, up to 600 feet above the crater.

"I think from Tavurvur you can expect small eruptions to go on yet. You can still expect eruptions from that volcano but not from Vulcan. Looking at past eruptions, I think the eruptions are getting less and less. Which simply means that the volcano is dying out," Jonathan Kuduon, seismologist from the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory, said.

Mount Tavurvur last erupted in 1994, as Mount Vulcan, located nearby, also became active. The double-whammy destroyed the town of Rabaul, one of the most important cities in New Guinea's East New Britain province. Ash from the volcanoes collapsed buildings in the city, after geologists received just 19 hours of warning about an impending release of lava. Only five people died during the incident, but looters ransacked the town after its destruction.

Volcanic ash can enter air intakes of jets, and become heated by extremely high temperatures in engines. This transforms the material into molten glass, which can clog and destroy the mechanism, potentially leading to a crash.

"In June 1982, a British Airways 747 suffered severe damage and had all four engines flame out upon encountering ash from Mt Galunggung in Indonesia... before being able to restart some engines and make an emergency landing in Jakarta. Three weeks later the same thing happened to a Singapore Airlines 747, which this time lost two engines and also made an emergency landing," the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology stated.

The Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland is also currently undergoing seismic activity that has airlines worried about the safety of their flights. The eruption in New Guinea is more severe than the event in Iceland, although Bardarbunga could affect air travel over much of Europe.

No injuries have yet been reported from the eruption of Mount Tavurvur, although some flights were re-routed following the eruption. If activity continues to subside, air travel could be minimally impacted. However, another serious eruption could play havoc with airlines conducting flights through the area.

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.