Volcano sparks more flight disruptions

Ice and fire: Travel chaos spreads as ash cloud keeps major European airports shut

Volcano sparks more flight disruptions

grounded: A woman pushes a buggy past empty check-in desks at Stansted Airport in Essex, eastern England, on Saturday, as volcanic ash from Iceland halted thousands of flights. AFP

Scientists were uncertain when the ash, reported to be drifting eastward at altitudes commonly used by civilian jetliners, would dissipate.

One Icelandic geologist, Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson of the University of Iceland, told The Associated Press early on Saturday that activity was increasing at the volcano Eyjafjallajokull (pronounced EY-ya-fyat-lah-YO-kut), whose eruption on Wednesday disrupted air travel the next day. But in a statement released shortly after noon, a spokesman for Iceland’s Foreign Ministry, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, said that the force of the volcanic eruption under the glacier had been constant during the night until 4 am, when it appeared to decrease.

In extending its ban on flights to and from Britain until at least 1 am Sunday, the National Air Traffic Services said that the cloud was “moving around and changing shape.” The British organisation said that it had hoped that the cloud would move southward to open some air space, but instead new ash was coming from Iceland.

Britain’s Met Office, the national weather service, said on Saturday that the volcano is still erupting in pulses and evidence of ash dust over the country were now being detected. European air travel could be disrupted as a result for several days.

“The volcano has become rather more active on Saturday morning,” Barry Gromett, a spokesman for the Met office said. “We’re getting reports about thin ash deposits from all over the country.”

The Met Office in London said a strong westerly wind forecast for the next 12 hours would move the ash initially away from Britain, but it then “curves around” and affect Britain, Scandinavia and Russia.

More cancellations

The travel chaos extended around the globe, with airlines as far away as Australia and New Zealand being forced to cancel flights again on Saturday, and warning of further cancellations and disruption to come. Many of Europe’s major airports — crucial hubs for international travellers and cargo — remained closed.

Germany’s civil aviation authority, which had announced closures until 2 pm Saturday, extended them to 2 am Sunday. As the ash spread further east, airports across Ukraine, including Kiev, closed until at least 3 pm on Saturday, and aviation officials in Belarus said the country had closed its airspace.

Most airlines, including British Airways, are telling their customers to check online whether their flights were cancelled before travelling to the airport. Low-cost airline Ryanair went further and informed passengers that all flights were cancelled until midday Monday. At Frankfurt Airport on Saturday crowds of stranded passengers were thinner than on Friday. Many were people from Asia or other regions where overland travel was not an option. With no clear idea of when flight travel might be possible again, many were steeling themselves for a long stay.

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