Monitoring the restricted airspace around the lava flow is no small task

PAHOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii National Guard and Air National Guard are playing a big role on the Big Island.

Since the eruption first broke out in Leilani Estates, one of the biggest challenges have been managing all the aircraft that not only have to fly in and out of Puna for emergencies, but also, to gather information and document the natural phenomenon that's taking place.

"This volcano is so unlike any other natural disaster," said Staff Sgt. Roland Carino.

Carino is a member of the 297th Air Traffic Control Squadron based on Oahu. Carino and Staff Sgt. Skyler Ross are part of a six-person deployment keeping an eye and ear on the air space surrounding the Kilauea eruption area.

"We are always trying to see, what's the worst-case scenario and how can we be prepared for it. You're not hoping for it or planning on it but you always want to be one step ahead," Carino added.

Tucked just behind the Pahoa Fire Station sits the mobile air traffic control center. There, airmen are constantly monitoring the restricted airspace around the lava, and making needed adjustments.

"It was just a circle and it didn't really conform to what was the necessary needs of not all of our customers," said Staff Sgt. Skyler Ross.

There was once a five mile no-fly zone around Leilani estates. Guardsman were called to develop a new, more accommodating airspace that would allow USGS, Hawaii Electric and Light Company and the University of Hawaii at Hilo to operate drones.

They also received a request from mayor Harry Kim – to find a way to allow tour helicopters to operate.

"He wants to make sure that tourism is still going and people can still go while at the same time have a good 'in and out route' for all of our rescues and all of our helicopters to make sure that they feel safe in that air space," said Ross.

The team will remain on Hawaii Island for as long as their services are needed.

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