Iceland Volcano Threatens Flights in Europe

May 24, 2011 | By More

Iceland Volcano ash cloudAsh from an erupting Icelandic volcano headed for Britain could force flight cancellations similar to those experience previously.

The eruption of Grimsvoetn has raised concerns over a repeat of last year’s travel chaos sparked by the eruption of another Icelandic volcano which led to the biggest shutdown of European airspace since World War II.

low-level winds are blowing strongly towards the UK and volcanic ash is expected to reach Scottish airspace by early this morning.

Glasgow-based regional airline Loganair which serves mainly Scottish destinations has already cancelled 36 services.

Flagship carrier British Airways, Dutch airline KLM, Irish carrier Aer Lingus and budget airline Easyjet also suspended flights late Monday destined for northern Britain.

Two days into its most powerful eruption in over a century, monitors said ash particles from the Grimsvoetn volcano had been scattered across much of Iceland, forcing the country to close its airspace Sunday.

But winds shifted and began pushing the ash to the south, allowing the North Atlantic island nation to reopen all of its 4 airports by Monday evening.

However, with a volcano still erupting one can only imagine the possibilities of the airport being shut again. Any sort of predictions are impossible.

Denmark’s autonomous territory Greenland, the only other place where airspace so far has been shut due to the ash, extended the closure of some airspace until at least midnight GMT.

The main question is if the ash production will affect Scotland or Northern Ireland, and whether or not the ash could get into a jetstream to the south of Iceland and head out to the North Sea.

The explosive, ash-producing phase of the eruption could hopefully end within a few days.

Experts also point out that the ash from the ongoing eruption appears coarser than the very fine ash from last year’s blast, and should therefore not travel as far.

European air traffic controllers in Brussels said Monday they did not expect any further airspace closures due to the ash until the end of Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas, however, suggested that the picture was less certain.

There is at the moment a possibility of volcanic ash affecting the European airspace starting with the northwestern areas like the UK and Ireland possibly today or tomorrow.

During last year’s eruption of the neighbouring Eyjafjoell volcano, more than 100,000 flights were cancelled and 8 million passengers stranded, dealing a harsh blow to the airline industry, particularly in Europe.

The threat of a repeat sent airline shares across the continent tumbling Monday, with German Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, British Airways and Scandinavian airline SAS all seeing falls of around 3 to 4 percent.

How far the ash travels will depend on the strength of the winds and the intensity of the eruption, experts agree, pointing out that historically Grimsvoetn eruptions have tended to have very brief explosive stages, with the intensity usually subsiding significantly within a few days.

On Monday, the plume stood at around 10 kilometres, slightly above the peak of last year’s eruption ash column from Eyjafjoell.

Meanwhile, football club Barcelona said it would make a decision Tuesday regarding travel plans for the Champions League final which they are due to contest with Manchester United in London on Saturday.

British transport minister Philip Hammond said there had been some delays to flights but added Britain was better prepared after last year’s travel chaos.

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