UPDATE: While still technically an active volcano, Kīlauea is not currently erupting. Its most recent eruption lasted from December 20, 2020 to May 23, 2021.
What you need to know about flying over the current Kīlauea, eruption on the Big Island of Hawai’i
Updated Jan 6, 2021. Originally Posted Dec 22, 2020.
I heard there was a volcanic eruption – what is happening?
On the night of Sunday December 20, 2020, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, part of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), reported a glow within the Halemaʻumaʻu crater of Kīlauea, indicating that an eruption had started. Lava flowed through three fissure vents and into the crater’s basin where it heated the lava lake to a boil. The lava is currently contained to the crater where USGS says the volcanic activity has “stabilized”. This eruption was accompanied by seismic activity.
Where is the eruption?
The current volcanic activity is taking place in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater of Kīlauea on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Kīlauea is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world and lies within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, surrounded by 335,259 acres of protected land.
Video footage by Mick Kalber of Tropical Visions.
Is it safe to fly?
Yes, with reasonable safety precautions. USGS reports that currently volcanic activity has stabilized, lava is contained to the Halemaʻumaʻu crater, and the only danger from the eruption is a reduction in air quality in the surrounding area. If necessary, pilots will deviate their route to ensure the most optimal flying conditions.
At Paradise Helicopters, we’ve been flying over the active volcano since 1999. Our pilots are aware of the hazards and regularly train according to a rigorous safety program. Helicopters in general have been flying near volcanic activity on the Island of Hawai’i since the 1970s.
Is this similar to the eruption that happened in 2018?
Kīlauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Until September 4, 2018, it had been erupting continuously since 1983. With several notable exceptions, the vast majority of activity over that 35-year period was in Halema’uma’u Crater (the location of the current activity) and Pu’u O’o Vent.
In April of 2018, the Pu’u O’o Vent collapsed, and the collapse was followed by fissures opening in the Eastern Rift Zone in the Leilani Estates area. These fissures, and specifically Fissure 8, produced a large amount of lava that eventually formed a molten river that flowed through several communities and into the ocean.
The event that started recently on December 20, 2020 is contained to the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. Halemaʻumaʻu is situated inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. No homes or residents are in immediate danger.
What does the lava look like now?
Right now the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater is filled with a molten lava lake, being fed from spattering lava vents. Lava is flowing down a narrow channel into the lake, feeding a small dome fountain. In the middle of the lava lake, lies an island of cooler, solidified lava that has been rotating counter-clockwise. The surface of the molten lava lake is mostly black where the lava has cooled due to exposure to the air, but the lake surface is riddled with cracks that glow red and orange due to the lava beneath.
From Dec 22, 2020 until early January, there was a TFR (temporary flight restriction) in place that limited our overflight to 3 miles from the center of activity, and no lower than 9,000 feet above sea level. While we respected and adhered to these guidelines, based on our decades of experience flying around this eruptive volcano and into its crater, we believed this no-flight area is overly cautious. Leadership at Paradise Helicopters actively worked with restricting agencies to request a relaxation of the TFR. The flight restriction has been lifted as of January 5, 2021 and we are now able to fly within 2,000 ft of the summit of Kilauea. (Please note that another TFR could be reinstated at any time.)
Can I fly over the volcanic activity to see it?
Absolutely! We are currently flying guests to observe the incredible volcanic activity first-hand. Our operations team and Director of Safety keep a constant eye on conditions and are in touch with local monitoring agencies like USGS to ensure each flight is conducted safely. Should weather or volcanic activity hide certain sights, flight routes may be adjusted to maximize viewing of volcanic features. Volcanoes are in a constant state of change, so if you are interested in flying to observe the volcano with us, we recommend you call our reservations team for an update on the current conditions and to join one of our tours or book a private charter flight. You can reach us at +1 (866) 876-7422.