Volcanic ash shuts UK airspace for second day

17:20, April 16, 2010      

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Ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano is continuing to drift across Britain forcing the closure of UK airspace for a second day. The grounding of all non-emergency flights from airports began on Thursday morning and will remain in place until at least 19:00 BST [18:00 GMT].

The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) imposed the restriction because of the danger the ash poses to aircraft. Tiny particles of rock, glass and sand in the cloud could damage engines.

In a statement published on its website NATS said, "In general, the situation cannot be said to be improving with any certainty as the forecast affected area appears to be closing in from east to west. We continue to work closely with airports, airlines, and the rest of Europe to understand and mitigate the implications of the volcanic eruption. We will review further Met Office information and at 08:30 BST [07:30 GMT] we will advise the arrangements that will be in place until 01:00 BST [0:00 GMT] on Saturday."

The shutting down of Britain's airspace is unprecedented. Even the events of 9/11 resulted in only temporary restrictions and subsequent terror alerts have only affected the security surrounding the screening of passengers. Manchester, Liverpool, Stansted, Newcastle, Southampton, Birmingham, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, Bristol, Gatwick, Heathrow and Blackpool were all badly affected on Thursday. Thousands of passengers across Britain were left stranded and airports cleared of all but essential staff.

The volcanic ash has also affected flights elsewhere. Restrictions were imposed in Scandinavia, France and Holland. Norwegian airspace was closed on Thursday and aviation authorities were gradually shutting down Danish skies, with all flights expected to be grounded by 17:00 GMT. Eurocontrol said Dutch airspace would be closed from Thursday afternoon due to the approach of the volcanic ash. Northern parts of Sweden and Finland were also affected and Swedish aviation authorities said its entire airspace would be closed from 20:00 GMT.

In Germany Frankfurt airport cancelled 160 flights from a scheduled 1,400 flights. Hamburg and Berlin airports were closed on Thursday night, and officials said they were uncertain as to when they would reopen on Friday. The cancellations created chaos in London as stranded travellers queued to rebook flights at Heathrow and tried to find hotel rooms or seats on the Eurostar train. A spokesman for Heathrow Airport in London, said that 840 of 1,250 flights scheduled Thursday had been cancelled, affecting about 180,000 passengers.

The scenes were repeated across Europe's airports and around the world as passengers and tourists found themselves unable to fly to the UK, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Belgium. Hague airport in Holland reported at least 23 flights cancelled including an inbound flight from Portugal. In France, at least 25 airports were closed Thursday evening because of the cloud, which reached the north. These airports will remain closed until at least 14:00 local time [1200 GMT] on Friday. All of Paris's airports, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Le Bourget were severely affected and closed at 23:00 local time [2100 GMT] Thursday.

The cancellations stretched well beyond Eurpe with U.S. airlines scrapping half of all transatlantic flights between the U.S. and Europe because of the ash cloud. Even Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had to cancel a planned trip to Murmansk in north Russia on Thursday due to the ash cloud.

Volcanic ash has caused a number of aviation emergencies, though it is the first time such events have caused such severe disruption. 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.

This year's activity marks only the fourth time that Eyjafjallajokull has erupted in the past 1,100 years. The previous occasion was between 1821 and 1823.

Source: Xinhua


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