Volcano Eruptions May Disrupt European Air Traffic for Months

European airlines canceled more than 77 percent of their flights today as most of the continent’s northern and central nations remained closed to air traffic because of volcanic ash. Accuweather predicted little change until April 22.

No flights will operate out of the U.K. until at least 1 p.m. London time tomorrow, the National Air Traffic Service said today via e-mail. German airports will remain closed until 2 p.m. Berlin time, the DFS air traffic control agency said. The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, or Eurocontrol, expects about 5,000 flights across Europe today, compared with 22,000 on a “normal” Saturday, it said today in a statement.

“Expect ongoing interruptions for the next four or five days,” Teitur Atlason, at the Icelandic meteorological office, said in a telephone interview today. “The eruption is still in full swing, and the volcano is spewing pretty dark ashes as high into the air as 5 to 6 kilometers.”

Flights were grounded after April 14 when an eruption at the Eyjafjallajökull volcano spewed dust across thousands of miles of European airspace, closing terminals from Dublin to Moscow. The direction of winds high in the atmosphere mean the disruption may go on for the next few days.

‘No Signs of Change’

“The jet stream winds, which extend from 10,000 feet up to 40,000 feet, show no signs of change through Wednesday,” Accuweather said in a statement. “Any ash plume that is released from the Eyjafjall volcano in Iceland will continue to threaten northern Europe and the British isles.”

Canceled flights are costing carriers about $200 million a day, the International Air Transport Association estimates. Anyone hoping to travel should contact their airline before traveling to the airport, NATS said.

Flights have been halted because of concerns that the ash plume could damage engines and speed sensors. The finest material from the blast is formed of dust akin to glass, which can melt and congeal in a turbine, causing it to stop, said Sue Loughlin, head of vulcanology at the British Geological Survey.

“The (air) current in the height the ashes are reaching remains a strong northwesterly wind, which blows the ashes to Scotland and South Scandinavia,” Atlason of the Icelandic Met Office said. “Once the ashes reach those places other more complex wind systems take over, which spread the ashes across North and Central Europe. This will continue until Wednesday.”

Last for Months

Volcanic eruptions may continue for months, curtailing European air traffic when the ash reaches the region, said Sigrun Hreinsdottir, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. “From what we’ve seen, it could erupt, pause for a few weeks, and then possibly erupt again.”

The last eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in December 1821 continued until January 1823. The current blast has sent ash to as high as 7 kilometers (4.5 miles), according to Gudrun Larsen, a vulcanologist at the University of Iceland. The magma had to pierce 200 meters of ice before erupting, she said.

“We really don’t know if this eruption is going to last as long as the previous one, but we can’t say it’s not a possibility,” Larsen said by telephone.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG canceled all flights to and from German airports today. All long-distance flights to Germany with a scheduled arrival until 2 p.m. tomorrow also were canceled, the company said in a statement on its Web site today.

“This is the first time all our planes are grounded,” Lufthansa spokesman Wolfgang Weber said via telephone.

Canceled Flights

British Airways Plc, which halted flights from the U.K. beginning at midday on April 15, said no services to and from London will operate today or tomorrow. Its shares tumbled 3.1 percent in the U.K. capital yesterday, the most since Feb 12.

Denmark extended the shutdown of its airspace for all flights until 8 a.m. local time tomorrow, according to the Web site of Copenhagen-based Naviair, Denmark’s flight controller.

Switzerland and Belgium today extended closure of their respective airspaces to 8 p.m. local time, Agence France-Presse reported. Paris airports will remain shut until 8 a.m. on April 19, a government official said. Belarus closed airspace for passenger and cargo flights, Interfax reported. The ash may stay over the country for two or three days, it said.

Rome Open

Air France-KLM Group’s Dutch KLM unit canceled today’s flights into and out of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the company said in a statement on its Web site. Dutch airspace is closed until at least 8 a.m. tomorrow, the Netherlands’ Inspectorate for Transport, Public Works and Water Management said.

Italy will keep airspace in the north of the country closed until at least 8 a.m. on April 19 and may curtail flights in the south as a cloud of volcanic ash spreads across Europe from Iceland, ENAC, the nation’s civil aviation authority, said in an e-mailed statement today.

Airports in Rome remain open, though they’re experiencing delays and cancellations.

TUI AG, owner of Europe’s largest travel company, has canceled all flights until at least noon tomorrow German time. TUI will assume the costs for one more night at a hotel for all customers affected by the decision, the Hanover, Germany-based company said in an e-mailed statement today.

Carriers throughout the Asia-Pacific region canceled flights on routes to Europe, with Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd. saying it didn’t know when service might resume. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., based in Hong Kong, scrapped departures to London, Paris, Frankfurt and Milan and said it wouldn’t accept new bookings for the next few days.

Delta, American

Europe-bound flights from Japan, South Korea, China and India were stopped because of danger from the ash. Air India and Singapore Airlines Ltd. canceled some routes to North America.

“At this stage it’s highly unlikely things are going to return to normal for several days at least,” David Epstein, a Qantas spokesman in Melbourne, said today at a press briefing. “It may well be a week.”

Delta Air Lines Inc., the world’s largest carrier, scrubbed 91 flights today to and from Europe because of the ash cloud, said spokesman Anthony Black. AMR Corp.’s American Airlines canceled 56 flights between the U.S. and Europe today, the company said in a recorded message. American was able to operate flights into and out of Spain and Italy, spokesman Tim Smith said.

Karen Pride, a spokeswoman for Chicago’s Department of Aviation, which operates O’Hare International Airport, Midway International Airport and Gary-Chicago International Airport, said 22 flights bound for Chicago from Europe were canceled.

From Italy to Kazakhstan

Telephone calls to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Boston’s Logan International Airport and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three New York-area airports, weren’t immediately returned.

The outlook this weekend is for westerly winds to pick up over northern Britain, shifting ash away from Scotland, while keeping it over England. The edge of the ash cloud was forecast to reach as far south as northern Italy and Romania and as far east as the borders of Kazakhstan, according to the Met office.

Because of the wind direction, Iceland’s Keflavik airport remains open, with North American flights operating on schedule.

The eruption began on March 20 with a lava flow on the eastern flank of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, according to the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland. After a lull, it erupted again early on April 14, directly under the icecap that covers most of the mountain.

Magma and Ice

“The problem here is we have magma interacting with glacier ice, and that leads to explosions,” Hreinsdottir said. “That causes the material to go much higher in the air.”

Mike Burton, a researcher at the Italian National Vulcanology Institute who has studied the ash from the latest explosion, said it presents more of a threat to aircraft than would the dust from a typical eruption.

“It’s likely that ash production will continue long after all the ice is melted in the volcano as this kind of magma can produce ash without water,” Burton said by telephone. “Fine ash is easier to transport long distances and goes higher into the atmosphere. This is not good news for flights.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Brown in London at mbrown42@bloomberg.net; Omar R. Valdimarsson in Reykjavik valdimarsson@bloomberg.net

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