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Volcanic ash causes havoc again; flights cancelled

Last updated on: May 17, 2010 17:13 IST

Volcanic ash causes havoc again; flights cancelled

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Ash clouds from a new surge in Icelandic volcanoes caused fresh travel chaos in major European air routes shutting down key airports with Air India cancelling its Heathrow bound flights from Delhi and Mumbai on Monday.

The black clouds also shut other major airports in Europe including Schipol and Rotterdam in Holland, and Gatwick and London as well as flights to and fro from Ireland and Scotland.

Eurocontrol, the agency that coordinates air travel across Europe, said that about 1,000 flights were cancelled on Monday after drifting volcanic ash from Iceland forced closure of two European airports.

Around 1,000 flights out of 28,000 were disrupted according to Eurocontrol. London's Heathrow which is the busiest airport in Europe and Gatwick reopened at 1300 GMT (1730 IST) after being closed down for seven hours from 0400-1300 hrs.

All airports in Ireland and Scotland were also shut down.

Air India cancelling its Heathrow bound flights from Delhi and Mumbai on Monday. Jet airways, however flew scheduled flights from Delhi and Mumbai as their flights land at Heathrow in the night.

The latest closures came at the beginning of the week as travel was expected to be disrupted due to the five-day strike called British Airways cabin crew.

Europe's skies became no-fly zone for up to a week in April following the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano, in the biggest shut down of continents airspace in last fifty years.

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Image: Lava and ash explode out of the caldera of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
Photographs: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
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Air India sources told PTI that its Amritsar-London-Toronto flight is airborne and expected to land here tonight. The Heathrow-bound flights from Mumbai and Delhi are expected to fly as per schedule on Tuesday.

Jet Airways sources said their flights from Delhi and Mumbai are flying as per schedule and expected on Monday night.

Passengers flying with British Airways are also expected to face problems because of strike action by cabin crew from midnight tonight. Other airports in Scotland, Wales and Ireland remain shut until at least lunchtime on Monday.

Eurocontrol, which is in charge of air-traffic across Europe, said the ash is mainly at low-levels of concentration.

"During the course of the day, the current cloud is expected to disperse somewhat. By 1 pm, the cloud is expected to mainly affect Northern Ireland, parts of Scotland and parts of south-west United Kingdom. There may be some continuing disruption to flights in the greater London area," it said.

Delays will also be experienced by flights due to congestion in airspace adjacent to closed areas. Ash can clog aircraft engines.

The April 14 eruption at Eyjafjallajokull volcano forced most countries in northern Europe to shut their airspace between April 15-20.

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Image: The Northern Lights are seen above the ash plume of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
Photographs: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
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Volcanic ash causes havoc again; flights cancelled

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This led to grounding of more than 100,000 flights and an estimated 10 million travellers worldwide. The shutdown cost airlines more than $2 billion.

Airports across Britain and Ireland were closed for much of yesterday because of the drifting ash.

The shifting of the no-fly zone southward will allow airports in northern England-including the key cities of Manchester and Liverpool-to reopen on Monday.

A string of other airports remain closed including Cardiff, Swansea and Bristol as well as Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness in Scotland.

Britain's Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said: "We are gathering more evidence all the time. The aircraft manufacturers are looking at that evidence. They are looking at what inspection regimes they can put in place that would allow safe flying through a somewhat higher threshold of ash. If we can do that the likelihood of volcanic ash disrupting flights will obviously diminish. The British air traffic agency said the ash cloud was changing shape and moving south, toward Oxford, 100 km northwest of London."

Britain's weather service said the northwest winds should shift midweek, redirecting the ash away from Britain.

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Image: A plane prepares to land at Nice international airport in France.
Photographs: Eric Gaillard/Reuters
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At Heathrow Airport many passengers awaiting connecting flights had slept in terminals overnight after they were cancelled.

German authorities sent up two test flights on Sunday to measure the ash cloud, one from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the other from Lufthansa, the country's biggest airline. The DLR plane flew to southern England and then continued north, collecting data from between 3,000 to 7,000 metres.

The Lufthansa Airbus A340-600, equipped with special scientific gear, left Frankfurt to fly over northern Germany, the UK and parts of Scandinavia. All the data from both flights was immediately sent to aviation authorities in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany, said aerospace centre spokesman Andreas Schuetz.

A spokesman for British Airways said, that airlines should take the decision whether or not it was safe to fly, describing the current approach as 'overly restrictive' and 'not justified'.

"The approach the airspace authorities have taken in relation to volcanic ash remains overly restrictive and not justified on safety grounds.

"The airline industry has a great deal of experience in dealing safely with the potential risk posed by volcanic ash.

"As a global airline, British Airways has operated for many years in areas of volcanic activity, and we believe airlines are best placed to take the final decisions on whether or not it is safe to fly. Safety will always be our overriding priority.


Image: People wait at the Prat Airport in Barcelona. Fifteen airports in Spain were closed.
Photographs: Marti Fradera/Reuters
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