Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Icelandic volcano halts flights

Ash from an Icelandic volcano has begun to disrupt air traffic with some trans-Atlantic flights being re-routed and some flights leaving Scottish airports being cancelled or delayed.

The Grímsvötn volcano began to issue smoke and ash a few days ago, but it has only just begun to effect flights beyond Iceland itself. The eruption comes a little over a year from when the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano caused widespread disruption across Europe. In April 2010 thousands of flights were cancelled costing airlines and the economy millions of Euros.

It is hoped that the ash being spewed from Grímsvötn will not create such a major impact. There is a better understanding of the risks posed from volcanic ash, though some airlines are being more cautious than others.


A number of airports in Scotland saw cancellations including Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. British Airways said it was not operating any flights between London and Scotland until 13:00 GMT. EasyJet cancelled its flights to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen but only those scheduled between 04:00 and 08:00 GMT.

KLM cancelled flights to and from Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as some to Newcastle while Flybe cancelled flights to and from Aberdeen and Inverness. Glasgow-based Loganair cancelled 36 flights and only its inter-island routes in Orkney were unaffected. Flights between Scotland and Ireland were also affected. Aer Lingus cancelled a number of its flights between the Republic of Ireland and Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Eastern Airways said it was cancelling all its Scottish operation [BBC]. Further afield air traffic between Greenland and Denmark was temporarily halted [Xinhua].

The drifting ash cloud even prompted the President of the United States to change his plans. Barack Obama cut short his Ireland visit and landed in London last night, a day earlier than scheduled.


So far there has not been and mandatory flight restrictions imposed and airlines have been withdrawing their services voluntarily. Nonetheless there are risks posed from flying through volcanic ash. Assessing the level of risk is difficult however. There are issues of density and while some flight levels may be saturated with dust, higher altitudes might be clear.

The restrictions seen last year were implemented because of the very real danger volcanic ash poses to aircraft. Tiny particles of rock, glass and sand in the cloud could damage engines and lead to a potential catastrophic power failure. In 1982 a British Airways 747 descended several thousand feet after all four of its engines failed when it flew through a volcanic cloud from Indonesia. It eventually landed safely.

Different kind of ash

Experts believe the latest eruption will not cause as many problems since the ash being issued is different. Particles are said to be much larger and should descend much quicker [BBC].

However the markets have been less optimistic. Shares of several carriers dropped with news of the drifting ash cloud. International Consolidated Airlines and EasyJet fell by about 5%, and Air France KLM stocks were down 4.5% [BBC].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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