Volcanic Ash Closes Amsterdam, Edinburgh Airports
Airlines were forced to ground 1,000 flights across Europe today as the return of the Icelandic ash cloud closed terminals from Northern Ireland to the Netherlands. Most of the region’s airspace was open again by the afternoon.
London Heathrow, the region’s busiest airport, suffered more than 150 cancelations before flights resumed at 7 a.m. and Amsterdam Schiphol, the fifth-busiest, shut for seven hours until 1 p.m. Many flights that are operating have been delayed.
An eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano on April 14 closed European airspace for six days last month, grounding 100,000 flights at a cost of $1.7 billion, according to industry figures. Dust from the 5,000-foot crater has drifted across the region intermittently in the 4 1/2 weeks since, shutting airports as far south as Morocco and the Canary Islands.
“After a relatively quiet period the volcano erupted again last week and the ash is reaching the sort of altitudes where it’s funneled south towards Europe,” U.K. Met Office spokeswoman Sarah Holland said in a telephone interview. “The forecast is for winds to become more southwesterly and that may help carry the ash away again and limit the disruption.”
Volcanic dust is a threat to planes because the abrasive, silica-based material may clog engines, scar windscreens and disable speed sensors that are critical in flight. Safety regulators are seeking to develop new models that would ease disruption, and the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority today relaxed rules to permit flying in “medium density” ash clouds.
Maps of no-fly zones supplied by Eurocontrol, which oversees flight paths in the region, show low-level ash stretching due east from Iceland and then south through the North Sea as of 1 a.m. London time.
About 28,000 flights should take place in Europe today, 1,000 less than the usual number, Eurocontrol said in a statement. About 400 services were canceled yesterday, mostly in the northwestern U.K. and Ireland, it said.
“Although the ash problem is not something that will last forever, we don’t know when it’s going to end,” said Jay Ryu, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Mirae Asset Securities Co. “This is delaying a recovery in the industry.”
The U.K. CAA lifted a no-fly zone over central and northern Britain “following further information from the Met Office about the nature and location of the ash cloud,” National Air Traffic Services Ltd. said on its website. All U.K. airports should be open until at least 1 a.m.. it said.
Dublin airport began accepting flights at midday, the Irish Aviation Authority said. Airports further north and west remain shut, including Belfast City in Northern Ireland and those in the Scottish islands of Shetland and Orkney.
British Airways Plc reported “significant disruption” to operations this morning. Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest discount carrier, scrapped more than 200 flights because of airspace restrictions, according to its website.
Gatwick began accepting both takeoffs and landings from 10:55 a.m. after more than 100 cancellations. Both there and at Heathrow, passengers are being advised that some flights will still be delayed or canceled as a result of earlier closures.
“The difficulty for all of us is that this is a movable feast,” said Malcolm Robertson, a spokesman for BAA Ltd., which owns Europe’s busiest airport. “There are some operating restrictions in place which have been imposed by NATS which essentially mean there will be some delays and cancellations.”
Air France-KLM Group diverted flights headed for Amsterdam to cities including Paris, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt in Germany and Maastricht in the Netherlands.
Among North American carriers, Delta Air Lines Inc. halted 17 flights today, according to spokesman Anthony Black, while US Airways Group Inc. scrapped westbound services from Heathrow, Gatwick, Amsterdam, Dublin, Manchester in northern England and Glasgow in Scotland, spokesman James Olson said in an e-mail.
Continental Airlines Inc. canceled 15 westbound flights, spokesman Andrew Ferraro said, and UAL Corp.’s United Airlines scrubbed nine flights to London and two from Amsterdam, said spokeswoman Sarah Massier. AMR Corp.’s American Airlines scrapped a service to Heathrow and one departure each from Manchester and Dublin, according to spokesman Tim Smith.
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. diverted two London-bound flights and to Amsterdam that left Hong Kong overnight. Singapore Airlines Ltd. diverted two European services and said it would operate an Amsterdam route from Frankfurt instead.
All Nippon Airways Co. planned to delay a London flight by an hour and warned passenger it might divert to Frankfurt or Paris, spokesman Yoshifumi Miyake said. Japan Airlines Corp. and Qantas Airways Ltd. intended to continue operating flights, while saying disruption was possible. Malaysian Airline System Bhd. planned to reschedule London and Amsterdam flights.
European carriers said again today that airspace has sometimes been closed unnecessarily in recent weeks because predictions of ash cover are derived solely from theoretical projections based on weather forecasts.
British Airways CEO Walsh said today that the no-fly zones have been a “gross overreaction,” while U.K. billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., criticized the exclusion of airlines from decision making.
“We would like the responsibility to be taken back within the industry,” Branson said in an interview. “There shouldn’t be a small quango of people making these decisions.”
The situation should be eased by the CAA’s new measures, NATS said in a statement. According to the revised model, flights through medium-density ash will be permitted in U.K. airspace on a “time-limited” basis.
The new zone fits between no-fly areas where ash densities are considered unsafe and low-density ones where flights are permitted under “enhanced procedures.” The IAA plans to adopt the same model, it said in a statement.
The European Aviation Safety Agency said last week it may recommend that guidelines for flights through contaminated airspace be remodeled along the lines of those used by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which imposes a 120 mile-buffer zone only around areas of visible ash.
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