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GIS-Based Indices for Comparing Airline Flight-Path Vulnerability to Volcanoes


  • A prior version of this article received first place in the student paper competition at the 2004 Great Plains/Rocky Mountain AAG meeting, for which the lead author is especially grateful. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments that greatly improved this article, as well as Scott Bridwell and Adam Sobek of the University of Utah, Department of Geography, for their knowledgeable assistance with GIS.


Volcanic ash can cause physical damage to an aircraft to the point of mechanical and electrical malfunction. In the event of an ash plume, aircraft would likely be diverted or grounded, leading to economic losses. This article presents two indices to compare the economic vulnerability of flight paths to volcanic ash plumes. The first index includes three factors for a flight path: wind direction, distance to the volcano, and flight-path attributes (i.e., number of flights per day, number of potential passengers, and average ticket cost). The second index compares the threat posed by different volcanoes to an airline flight-path network. A case study is presented for two airlines in the northwest United States to a Mt. Adams eruption. The results show that although the first airline has more flight paths in the region, the second airline is slightly more vulnerable due to the spatial relationships of its flight paths to the volcano and their attributes.

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