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Iceland Volcano Grounds Hundreds Of Flights

Staff Reporters |
May 25, 2011 | 1:40 p.m. PDT

(image via Flickr)
(image via Flickr)
Concentrations of volcanic ash from Iceland's Grimsvotn volcano have begun to move over British and Scottish airspace, causing the cancellation of 500 flights across Europe.

The eruption of the Icelandic volcano evokes memories of last year's eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which disrupted European air traffic for days, grounding thousands. Airlines made an immediate response to the volcano as flights began to dwindle.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Airlines such as British Airways, KLM, Aer Lingus, Loganair, Ryanair and others that canceled flights Monday and Tuesday have been scrambling to keep passengers informed of operations using Twitter, Facebook and websites, telling passengers not to come to the airport if their flight has been canceled. Continental and United have issued fee waivers for travelers heading to, from or through airports in Ireland and Scotland. And SAS warned passengers that flights to and from the U.S. will take about an hour longer because of a change in routes over the Atlantic Ocean to dodge the cloud.

Some airlines, such as Dublin-based budget airline RyanAir, protested the shut down of airspace, citing test flights that showed no danger flying through the "red zone" of volcanic ash. The ash is made up of small particles that could clog the turbines in an a jet engine, which would cause them to stop working.

From the UK Telegraph:

Disclosing the results of tests carried out on the aircraft after the test run, [Willie Walsh, chief executive of the International Airlines Group] told the BBC's Today programme: "The simple answer is we found nothing."

Pledging to make a case to the Civil Aviation Authority that the test proves it is safe to fly through the cloud, he added: "I think we need to understand the levels of concentration that we are talking about...the levels are absolutely tiny."

His remarks came after Michael O’Leary, the outspoken head of Ryanair, described the ash cloud as “mythical” after the airline operated a similar test flight across air space with the highest ash densities.

Rounding on the Civil Aviation Authority, he said its officials should "take their finger out of their incompetent bureaucratic backsides and allow the aircraft back into the skies over Scotland".

The European Union has said this eruption will have many less consequences than last April's, but they have still activated crisis measures. However, in light of the all-country flight ban that left thousands stranded last year, the EU has decided to implement a new approach.

From BBC News:

As before, it is up to each EU member state to decide whether or not to restrict flights in its airspace. But the aviation authorities are using new guidelines which specify three degrees of ash contamination.

The blanket flight ban last time infuriated the airlines, so this time the airlines themselves are largely deciding whether or not to continue flying, based on their own assessment of the airborne contamination.

The hope is that the new approach will greatly reduce the number of flights that have to be cancelled.

The ash cloud begun to drift over Germany on Wednesday, where it is expected to cause the most trouble.



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