/ 17 April 2010

Volcanic ash grounds Europe flights for third day

Volcanic Ash Grounds Europe Flights For Third Day

Large parts of Europe enforced no-fly rulings for a third day on Saturday because of a huge ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano that has caused the worst air travel chaos since the September 11 attacks.

The plume that floated through the upper atmosphere, where it could wreak havoc on jet engines and airframes, was costing airlines hundreds of millions of dollars and has thrown travel plans into disarray on both sides of the Atlantic.

Severe disruption of European air traffic was expected on Saturday, aviation officials said.

Airports in Britain, France, Germany and The Netherlands remained closed and flights were set to be grounded in Hungary and parts of Romania.

“Current forecasts show that the situation is worsening throughout Saturday,” Britain’s air traffic control body said in a statement as it extended its no-fly decree until at least 6pm GMT, including northern areas where restrictions had been eased.

Sara Bicoccih, stranded at Frankfurt airport on her way home to Italy from Miami, said: “I am furious and frustrated.”

The US military had to reroute many flights, including those evacuating the wounded from Afghanistan and Iraq, a Pentagon spokesperson said.

“I would think Europe was probably experiencing its greatest disruption to air travel since 9/11,” a spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority, Britain’s aviation regulator, said.

“In terms of closure of air space, this is worse than after 9/11. The disruption is probably larger than anything we’ve probably seen.”

Following the attacks on Washington and New York in 2001, US air space was closed for three days and European airlines were forced to halt all transatlantic services.

Disruption from the volcanic ash eruption in Iceland was costing airlines more than $200-million a day, air industry group the International Air Transport Association said.

But unless the cloud disrupts flights for weeks, threatening factories’ supply chains, economists do not think it will significantly slow Europe’s shaky recovery from recession or affect second-quarter gross domestic product figures.

“The overall impact should be very limited even if the problem persists for a day or more …,” IHS Global Insight chief UK and European economist Howard Archer said.

Financial impact
Vulcanologists say the ash could cause problems to air traffic for up to six months if the eruption continues. The financial impact on airlines could be significant.

The fall-out hit airline shares on Friday with Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Berlin, Air France-KLM, Iberia and Ryanair down between 1,4 and 3%.

BA cancelled all flights in and out of London on Saturday.

Irish airline Ryanair, Europe’s biggest low-cost carrier, said it would cancel flights to and from northern European countries until 1200 GMT on Monday.

Delta Air Lines, the world’s largest airline, cancelled 75 flights between the United States and European Union countries on Friday, Delta spokesperson Anthony Black said.

Joe Sultana, head of network operations at European air control agency Eurocontrol, said the situation was unprecedented. Eurocontrol said it was up to each country when flights were resumed, based on whether there was clear air, which depended on wind direction.

Clear air space that had been over Vienna and Geneva was closing, so they could be affected.

The volcano began erupting on Wednesday for the second time in a month from below the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, hurling a plume of ash 6 to 11km into the atmosphere.

Officials said it was still spewing magma and although the eruption could abate in the coming days, ash would continue drifting into the skies of Europe.

Iceland’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said there was some damage to roads and barriers protecting farms.

“There is still an evacuation of around 20 farms, which is 40 to 50 people,” she said, noting this was less than the 800 people who had been evacuated earlier this week.

Volcanic ash contains tiny particles of glass and pulverised rock that can damage jet engines and airframes.

In 1982, a British Airways jumbo jet lost power in all its engines when it flew into an ash cloud over Indonesia, gliding towards the ground before it was able to restart its engines.

The incident prompted the aviation industry to rethink the way it prepared for ash clouds.

In addition to travel problems, health officials said the volcanic ash could also prove harmful to those with breathing difficulties. The air problems have proved a boon for other transport firms. All 58 Eurostar trains between Britain and Europe were operating full, carrying about 46 500 passengers, and a spokesperson said they would consider adding more services.

London taxi firm Addison Lee said it had taken requests for journeys to Paris, Milan, Zurich and Salzburg in Austria. – Reuters