Volcano ash brings more air-travel chaos to Europe

Ash clouds from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano brought fresh travel chaos to thousands of passengers in Europe on Monday, as airports shut in Britain, The Netherlands and Ireland.

London Heathrow, Europe’s busiest air hub, and London Gatwick, were hit with a new round of delays and cancellations following a six-hour overnight shutdown.

Amsterdam, one of Europe’s key air interchanges, was closed for seven hours from 4am GMT as the denser part of the ash cloud drifted east.

About 1 000 flights in Europe would be cancelled, said Eurocontrol, the intergovernmental agency coordinating air traffic control, saying it expected 28 000 flights to operate Monday in the continent.

“The areas of ash concentration are mainly at low levels. During the course of the day, the current cloud is expected to disperse somewhat,” it added, saying it would affect mainly parts of Britain.

Heathrow, and Gatwick, Britain’s second-busiest airport, reopened at 6am GMT, but airports in Northern Ireland stayed shut until at least 12pm GMT.

Other airports that had closed down temporarily reopened, but services were struggling to get back to normal.

“The Civil Aviation Authority has lifted the no-fly zone that has been affecting flights at Heathrow and Gatwick,” said National Air Traffic Services, which manages British airspace.

“The decision comes following further information from the Met Office about the nature and location of the ash cloud.

“The no-fly zone remains in place in two key areas, affecting operations in Northern Ireland and the Shetland isles.

“All other airports are open.”

Passengers at Liverpool arrived to find their flights were still cancelled, despite the flight ban being lifted for the airport.

“It’s been terrible. There’s just nothing going,” said Margaret Palombella (55), who was heading to Portugal.

“They said I might be able to get away on Wednesday night.”

Knock-on effects
The disruption had knock-on effects in other countries, with planes stuck in the wrong places. Thirty-two flights from Portugal were cancelled, authorities there said.

The latest ash closures came at the beginning of a week where air travel disruption was already expected, due to a five-day strike by British Airways cabin crew set to kick off Tuesday.

In The Netherlands, besides Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Groningen airports were temporarily closed, but Eindhoven and Maastricht airports were open.

The ash clouds are over “the western part of the country and are moving slowly east”, Dutch air traffic control spokesperson Marjolein Wenting told Agence France-Presse.

In Ireland, Dublin airport reopened at 11am GMT after a 17-hour shutdown as the cloud moved east; Sligo was back in action at 9am GMT.

Outside of Dublin, the country’s other two principal airports, Cork and Shannon, remained open.

The volcanic dust at more concentrated levels presents a danger to plane engines, though some industry officials have complained that the safety measures and airport closures have been excessive.

‘Gross overreaction’
British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh said blanket bans on flying were “a gross overreaction to a very minor risk”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesperson said passenger safety was the government’s priority and it was down to experts to make a judgement.

However, the new PM was “willing to listen to any views”, he added.

Europe’s skies were partially closed for up to a week in April following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano, in the biggest shutdown of the continent’s airspace for more than 50 years.

Britain’s Met Office weather service said on Monday Eyjafjallajökull “continues to erupt”, with the ash plume thought to be 7km to 8km high, with extremes at 9km.

The international airline industry body, Iata, has estimated last month’s shutdown cost carriers $1,7-billion.

On Sunday, Eurocontrol said, disruptions in Ireland and northern Britain resulted in a loss of about 400 flights.—AFP

 

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