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Volcano May Keep Europe Airports Shut Four More Days

Stranded travelers wait in line at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on April 16, 2010. Photographer: Thierry Stefanopoulos/Bloomberg
Stranded travelers wait in line at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on April 16, 2010. Photographer: Thierry Stefanopoulos/Bloomberg

April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Northern and central Europe may remain closed to air traffic until April 22 as winds push ash from volcanic eruptions in Iceland across the continent, forecasters said.

More than 77 percent of flights that cross the European airspace were canceled yesterday as airports from Dublin to Moscow 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. German airports will remain closed until 8 p.m. Berlin time, the DFS air traffic control agency said.

“Expect ongoing interruptions for the next four or five days,” Teitur Atlason, at the Icelandic meteorological office, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “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 1,666-meter (5,466-foot) Eyjafjallajökull volcano spewed dust across thousands of miles of European airspace. Canceled flights are costing carriers about $200 million a day, the International Air Transport Association estimates.

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

Melt and Congeal

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 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.”

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.

Asia Routes

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 cancellation of 34 arrivals and departures, including Singapore Airlines Ltd. flights to nine European destinations.

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,” he said.

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.

“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.

Polish Funeral

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.

Other delegations, including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, are struggling to get through via government and military planes, which have clearance to fly at low altitudes.

Airline stocks, including British Airways Plc, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Ryanair Holdings Plc, fell on Friday as fleets were grounded.

British Airways Plc, which halted flights from the U.K. from midday on April 15, said no service to and from London will operate today. Its shares tumbled 3.1 percent in the U.K. capital on April 16, the most since Feb 12.

French civil aviation authorities said that at 2 p.m. today they will shut airports in the southwest of the country, which had been the last French airports unaffected. The authorities had closed the airports of Nice and Marseille in the south-east at 6 a.m. today. All French airports will remain closed until at least 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Rome, Iceland

Belarus closed airspace amid predictions the ash will linger for as many as three days, Interfax reported.

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. Japan Airlines canceled its flight to Rome today due to closure of the city’s Fiumicino Airport, according to the carrier’s Web site.

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

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

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

March 20 Eruption

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.

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.

“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. “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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net; Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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