Volcanic ash stops flights across northern Europe

A huge cloud of ash from a volcano in Iceland turned the skies of northern Europe into a no-fly zone on Thursday, leaving hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded.

An eruption on Wednesday, the second in a month, from below the Eyjafjallokull glacier hurled a plume of ash 6km to 11km into the atmosphere, and this spread south-east overnight.

“Due to ash, air traffic on the sea area between Scotland, Norway, northern Sweden, Britain, Norway and northern Finland is being limited,” Finland’s airport agency, Finavia, said.

No flights will be allowed in British air space, except in emergencies, from 11am GMT until at least 5pm GMT as the ash spreads across the country, Britain’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS) said.

“Volcanic ash represents a significant safety threat to aircraft,” it said in a statement, adding that it was coordinating with weather forecasters and other countries.

In 1982 a British Airways jumbo jet lost power in all its engines when it flew into an ash cloud over Indonesia, falling to within a few thousand feet of the ground before it was able to restart its engines.

Last year British airports handled about 6 000 flights a day, according to data from Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority.

Widespread disruption
Airspace in northern Sweden was closed and transatlantic flights were taking a longer route south to avoid the ash, said Jan Lindqvist, a spokesperson for Arlanda Airport in Stockholm.

All air traffic in and out of Norway’s main Oslo Airport was cancelled from 8am GMT.

Denmark’s Copenhagen airport said it would close at about 3pm GMT and it could not say when flights would resume. Danish air traffic controller Navair said the country’s part of North Sea air space was already closed.

Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam and Geneva airports said they had cancelled a large number of flights, and Eurocontrol said it had provisional plans to close part of the airspace above Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany later on Thursday.

Eurocontrol said later Dutch airspace would close from Thursday afternoon, the Dutch news agency ANP reported.—Reuters

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