Thursday, April 15, 2010

Volcanic ash shuts UK airports

Ash spewing from the Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano in Iceland has disrupted flights across Britain and forced airports to shut. Airline passengers are facing massive disruption after Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports were shut. Five easyJet flights due to depart from Stansted Airport were also cancelled as a result of the huge plume of ash. Further disruption has also been reported at other airports including Manchester, Liverpool, Stansted, Newcastle and Birmingham. Heathrow Airport's Twitter feed informed travellers at 05:00 GMT of possible disruption. "Due to volcanic ash drifting across the UK disruption is expected at Heathrow," the informative read. Airports across Britain have urged travellers to contact their airlines to check whether flights were affected.

Weather forecasters had warned on Wednesday that the ash plume could drift over British airspace during the night, causing significant disruption to services. The movement of the plume, which had been drifting eastwards, was being monitored by both the Met Office and NATS, the air traffic control service. Air traffic in Norway has also been halted due to poor visibility.

In a statement the air traffic control service said, "NATS has restricted the number of aircraft flying into UK airspace because of an ash cloud caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Volcanic ash represents a significant safety threat to aircraft. We are monitoring the situation with the Met Office, Eurocontrol and neighbouring countries, and working closely with the airlines to help inform their decisions about their operations. Anyone planning to fly today should check with their airline before going to the airport."

Volcanic ash, which consists of the pulverised rock and glass created by the eruptions, can jam aircraft machinery if a plane flies through the plume, shutting down the engines. Ash can also be can be sucked into the cabin itself, contaminating the passengers' environment as well as damaging the plane's electronic systems.

Forecasters say the cloud could take a number of days to disperse. Matt Dobson, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said there could be a threat in areas from Scotland to Denmark and Norway until Friday. 

Aircraft have been affected by volcanic ash in the past. In June 1982 a British Airways Boeing 747 ran into difficulties after the eruption of a volcano at Galunggung, Indonesia. Ash jammed all four engines briefly, and the aircraft plummeted 24,000 feet before they could be restarted.

Because of the threat to aviation, a global early warning system, known as the International Airways Volcano Watch, has been established. Iceland is considered as particularly vulnerable to volcanic disruption [PA / BBC / Telegraph]. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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