International airport closed by volcanic ash in Guatemala


Guatemalan air authorities suspended flights to and from Guatemala’s La Aurora International Airport (GUA) after ashes from the nearby Pacaya volcano fell over the city.

“Due to the change in direction of the wind from south to north and the increase in volcanic activity in Pacaya, volcanic ash is present at La Aurora airport in Guatemala. For safety reasons, operations have been suspended,” the head of the Civil Aviation Directorate (DGAC), Francis Argueta, said on Twitter.

At least one flight was diverted, and others remain stranded as ashes covered multiple aircraft parked on the apron. The Pacaya volcano has been in strong eruptive activity for over 47 days. The 2,552-meter-high volcano is located about 25 km south of Guatemala City.

Additionally to the reduced visibility, volcanic ash can damage plane engines. When ash is introduced to extremely high temperatures – much like the environment of an airplane engine – it melts into glass. The projected molten glass can then compromise the integrity of the compressor blades, resulting in engine failures. 

In 1982, a British Airways Boeing 747 lost all of its engines when it flew into an ash cloud over Mount Galunggung, in Indonesia. As the aircraft was plunging towards the ground, pilots managed to restart their engines at the last minute and landed successfully despite having no visibility.

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