News / Europe

Disrupted Air Travel in Northern Europe for Third Full Day

Iceland's volcano erupted Wednesday and has since been spewing ash several miles into the air. The ash clouds include particles of rock, glass and sand that can get into an aircraft's engine and cause it to stall.



Northern European skies were clear of most commercial planes Saturday. The European air traffic agency said Iceland's volcanic eruption, which began on Wednesday, will continue to impact European aviation until at least Sunday morning.  Thick clouds of ash continue to blow across the continent.

Hundreds of thousands of passengers around the world remain stranded for a third day as European flights were slashed Saturday down to one-quarter of their normal number.  The shutdowns are expected to continue for at least another several days.   

People have crowded onto trains, buses and ferries in a bid to carry out their travel plans - and cab companies say they are being paid thousands of dollars to ferry people across Europe by car.

The European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said only 6,000 flights would take place in European airspace Saturday - down from the 22,000 normally expected.   On Friday, Eurocontrol said about 16,000 or Europe's usual 28,000 daily flights were canceled.  Airspace in northern France was closed until Monday morning.

Southern Europe, including Spain, southern Italy, Greece, and Turkey remains open for flights.

Martin Crozier, senior meteorological officer at the Guernsey Met Office in England, says the volcanic eruption in southeast Iceland that has sent European aviation into meltdown is showing no sign of easing up.

"The situation hasn't improved at all I'm afraid," he said. "The volcano over Iceland is still producing quite a lot of ash. The upper level winds are still transporting that down towards the U.K. and northwest Europe. So if anything we have a reinforcement of the ash that's already up there - so things aren't looking too good today I'm afraid."

Crozier says the wind patterns that are pushing the volcanic dust towards Europe are expected to persist for days to come. "I think we're going to get the upper level winds carrying that ash down for a few more days yet until the upper wind patterns change which will probably not happen until the time frame Thursday-Saturday. So really at a worst-case scenario, with the volcano still going strongly, we could get airspace affected for the next few days," he said.

Iceland's volcano erupted Wednesday and has since been spewing ash several miles into the air. The ash clouds include particles of rock, glass and sand that can get into an aircraft's engine and cause it to stall.

The International Air Transport Association said Friday that the airline industry is losing more than $200 million in revenue a day - and they called this a conservative estimate.

Crozier says European aviation has never seen anything like it.  "In terms of disruption to aviation I think this is probably the worst it's been in northwest Europe," he said.

The last major disruption to European aviation followed the September 11 attacks in the United States almost a decade ago. U.S. airspace was closed for three days and European airlines cancelled all transatlantic flights.

The World Health Organization has warned people with breathing problems to remain indoors as much as possible when the ash is falling.

Airspace was closed Saturday in at least parts of more than a dozen countries - in some countries, the skies were emptied of commercial flights.

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