Volcano Eruptions May Disrupt European Air Traffic for Months

Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa AG were among carriers saying they managed to fly aircraft without suffering damage as authorities across Europe extended a flight ban after Iceland’s volcanic eruption.

Air France’s KLM Dutch unit operated nine test flights with only a crew after a technical inspection following one late yesterday in Dutch airspace revealed that “the quality of the atmosphere is in order.” Air France plans to fly an Airbus A320 in the southwest of France this afternoon. Lufthansa sent 10 aircraft from Munich to Frankfurt to reposition its fleet yesterday. All arrived safely.

“We asked the Frankfurt crew to check any damage with the aircraft and the windows,” Wolfgang Weber, a spokesman at Lufthansa, Europe’s second-largest carrier, said in a telephone interview. “There wasn’t even the smallest scratch.”

About 17 percent of 24,000 flights that would cross Europe’s airspace on a Sunday will fly today as airports from Dublin to Moscow closed, according to Eurocontrol, the Brussels- based group that oversees regional air traffic. Flights were grounded after April 14 when an eruption at the 1,666-meter (5,466-foot) Eyjafjallajökull volcano spewed dust across Europe’s airspace. The disruptions are costing carriers $200 million a day, the International Air Transport Association said.

Air Berlin, British Airways

Volcanic ash can cause jet engines to fail by melting and then congealing in the turbines. Test flights so far have shown no dangerous particles in European airspace following the eruption, according to airline executives.

Air Berlin Plc ran two test flights yesterday from Munich to Dusseldorf and from Nuremberg to Hamburg without problems, flying at the permitted 3,000 meters, the carrier said in a statement.

“We’re puzzled why the results of the Lufthansa and Air Berlin test flights had no influence on safety authorities’ decision criteria,” Air Berlin CEO Joachim Hunold said.

British Airways Plc, Europe’s third-largest carrier, said it plans to operate a test flight today from Heathrow airport to assess the quality of the U.K. airspace. The carrier has canceled all flights to and from London through tomorrow.

The European Commission said it will set up a group to assess the impact of the ash cloud on the travel industry and the economy. Spain called a video conference for European Union transport ministers tomorrow to discuss emergency plans.

Phone calls to Eurocontrol seeking comment went unanswered.

Re-Opening

In Norway, the airspace north of Bergen airport until Berlevag was re-opened, air controller Avinor said on its web site. The airspace over southern Norway may be cleared in the next six to 12 hours, Avinor said.

Sweden opened the air space north of Soderhamn, including Kiruna airport, according to the LFV flight controller. The rest of the air space remains shut, it said.

Germany’s DFS flight safety authority eased a ban at six airports in the east through 8 p.m., according to Kristina Kelek, the agency’s spokeswoman. The hubs include Berlin-Tegel, Berlin-Schoenefeld, Leipzig, Hanover, Hamburg and Erfurt. Other German airports remain closed.

No planes will operate out of the U.K. until at least 1 a.m. London time tomorrow, the National Air Traffic Service said. France’s civil aviation authority banned flying in the previously unaffected south of the country today. French airspace and all airports in the country will remain closed until at least 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Spain, Greece, Turkey

Airspace in northern Spain was also shut. Rome, Madrid, Athens and Istanbul were the only major European airports still in operation.

The Netherlands extended the closure of its airspace until 8 p.m. local time and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is closed until at least that time.

“We hope to receive permission as soon as possible after that to start up our operation and to transport our passengers to their destinations,” KLM Chief Executive Officer Peter Hartman said in a statement.

Airlines in the Asia-Pacific region canceled most Europe- bound flights, with Qantas Airways Ltd. saying it won’t fly to European destinations before April 20 and can’t confirm when service on those routes will resume.

Carriers including Air China Ltd., Japan Airlines Corp., Thai Airways International Pcl, Korean Air Lines Co. and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. shut down service to Europe, while Singapore’s Changi Airport reported cancelation of 34 arrivals and departures, including Singapore Airlines Ltd. flights to nine European destinations.

Little Visibility

Haraldur Eiriksson, a meteorologist at the Icelandic meteorological office, predicts little changes in the ash pattern in Europe in at least through April 23.

“This could have an ongoing impact on European air travel,” he said. “The forecast hasn’t changed although the height the volcano is spewing the ash into has decreased from 5 to 6 kilometers to less than 3 kilometers and now it can’t be seen on our radars. Due to cloudy weather conditions at the site of the volcano, we can’t say what the exact height of the ash is.”

Volcanic eruptions may continue for months and curtail European air traffic, said Sigrun Hreinsdottir, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. “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 reaching the air, she said.

Polish Funeral

“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.

The volcanic ash cloud also led world leaders, including Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to cancel plans to attend the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, killed with 95 others in an April 10 plane crash.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in a government jet which had clearance to fly at low altitudes.

Airline stocks, including British Airways, Lufthansa, and Ryanair Holdings Plc, fell April 16 as fleets were grounded. El Al Israel Airlines, which has canceled all European flights except to Madrid, Rome and Athens, fell the most in 17 months on the Tel Aviv exchange today.

Italy will keep airspace in the north of the country closed until at least 8 a.m. tomorrow and may curtail flights in the south, ENAC, the nation’s civil aviation authority, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

Italian Cheese

Exports of Italian products such as mozzarella cheese, flowers, fruit and vegetables worth 10 million euros ($13.5 million) are blocked, the country’s Coldiretti agricultural group said in a statement.

Deutsche Post AG’s DHL unit has diverted air freight to southern European airports including Bergamo in Italy to maintain services. DHL has closed its Leipzig-Halle freight hub where at least 50 aircraft land each week, carrying up to 200,000 deliveries, spokesman Stefan Hess said. DHL switched to rail and road for deliveries in northern Europe April 16.

Because of the wind direction, Iceland’s Keflavik airport is open, and North American flights are running on schedule.

OAO Aeroflot, Russia’s largest air carrier, is flying to North America via the North Pole to avoid volcano ash over Europe, transportation Minister Igor Levitin told Prime Minister Putin at a meeting today, Interfax said.

Delta, American

The U.S.-based Air Transport Association said yesterday that 282 of 337, or 84 percent, of the day’s non-stop flights between the U.S. and Europe were canceled.

Delta Air Lines Inc., the world’s largest carrier, scrapped 95 flights today to and from Europe, spokesman Anthony Black said. AMR Corp.’s American Airlines canceled 30 flights to Europe so far today, according to spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. American is able to operate flights to and from Spain and Italy, she said.

The Chicago’s Department of Aviation, which operates O’Hare International Airport, Midway International Airport and Gary- Chicago International Airport, said 14 flights bound for Chicago from northern Europe were canceled today.

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 resumed early on April 14, directly under the icecap that covers most of the mountain.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.net; Omar R. Valdimarsson in Reykjavik valdimarsson@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.