European flight ban extended to fifth day

European flight ban extended to fifth day

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Earth••• Millions of people face worsening travel chaos as a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland moves further south and east, forcing European countries to extend flight bans.

Iceland’s Eyjafjoell volcano erupted on Wednesday, sending ash drifting towards Europe at an altitude of about eight to 6.21 miles.

Europe’s three biggest airports – Heathrow, Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt – were closed. The ash cloud is now spreading towards Greece.

With flights grounded all over Europe, stranded holidaymakers and business travellers sought any means possible to get home – or contented themselves with just staying put.
An official for the Eurostar Channel tunnel rail service said thousands more passengers than normal were set to travel on its trains between London and continental Europe on Saturday.

British businessman Tom Noble said he had to buy a women’s bicycle to board a ferry home from France as the operator had no foot passenger tickets left and would only allow him on if he was a genuine cyclist.

Sky News reported comedian John Cleese paid $4617 for a taxi from Norway to Brussels so he could get the Eurostar home to England.

Airport closures

France has shut the three airports in the Paris area and others in the north of the country until 8 am on Monday due to the ash cloud that has caused the biggest airspace shutdown since World War II.

Italy will not allow any flights in the north of the country until 6 am GMT Monday, while Britain, Ireland and Germany have shut their airspace until 12 pm GMT Sunday.

British Airways has also cancelled all flights due to have arrived in and departed London today.

Other European nations also moved to extend their flight bans, including Austria to midnight GMT today and Belgium to noon GMT today.

Poland says it’s shutting its airspace “until further notice”.

The closure of Poland’s airspace has stopped world leaders, including President Barack Obama, from flying to the southern city of Krakow for Sunday’s funeral of president Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria.

The Kaczynski couple were among 96 people, most of them Polish dignitaries, killed in a plane crash in Russia last Saturday on their way to a World War II memorial service.
About 17,000 flights in European airspace yesterday were cancelled due to the cloud of volcanic ash, said Eurocontrol, which coordinates air traffic control in 38 nations.

A normal Saturday would see 22,000 flights in Europe. Eurocontrol said only about 5000 were able to operate.

Out of 337 scheduled flights by U.S. carriers to and from Europe, 282 were cancelled yesterday, according to the Air Transport Association.

The impact is likely to exceed the airspace shutdown after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the International Civil Aviation Organisation said.

Justifying the widespread airport closures, aviation officials have explained that aircraft engines could become clogged up and stop working if they tried to fly through the ash.

In the past 20 years, there have been 80 recorded encounters between aircraft and volcanic clouds, causing the near-loss of two Boeing 747s with almost 500 people on board and damage to 20 other planes, experts said.

Ash could stay all week

Winds blowing the massive cloud eastward from Iceland to Russia will continue in the same direction for at least two days and could go on until the middle of the week, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said today.

“The ash will continue to be directed towards Britain and Scandinavia,” Teitur Arason, a meteorologist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office said.

“That’s the general situation for the coming days… more or less for the next two days or maybe the next four or five days,” he said.

The volcanic ash cloud is heading towards Greece as it moves further south as well as east into Russia, Britain’s meteorological group the Met Office said.

Economic fallout huge

The International Air Transport Association meanwhile has warned of the economic fallout from the volcano eruption in southeast Iceland.

According to their figures it’s costing airlines more than $200 million a day.
Test flights carried out by KLM

Air France-KLM is carrying out test flights to see whether the skies are clear enough to fly again. On Saturday a Dutch KLM plane flew over the Netherlands and inspections revealed that the motors had not be damaged by volcanic ash.

Meanwhile another KLM plane has flown from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to Düsseldorf with crews on board to fly back stranded planes from the German airport.

If there are no problems the airline hopes to be given the go ahead to resume passenger flights. Much of European air space has now been closed for four consecutive days.

The chief of Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest airline, has criticised the closure of the skies. Air Berlin says up to now the closure has been based on computer simulations and calculations. Not a single weather balloon has been let up into the sky to measure whether there is volcanic ash above Germany.

German meteorologists say laser beams indicate the presence of volcanic ash at heights between 1.86 and 4.35 miles.
» Millions watch Iceland volcano online


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