Volcanic Ash Causes Biggest Flight Disruption Since 9/11

Europe, Travel News — By David Chalk on April 16, 2010 at 8:53 am

After a volcano erupted in Iceland on March 21, we brought you sort of silly stories about how Iceland’s tourism industry and culinary scene suddenly got hot.  But when the same volcano erupted again Wednesday, it left countless air travelers cooling their heels as volcanic ash drifting over Northern Europe caused thousands of flights cancellations.   The disruption of air travel was the biggest since the September 11 attacks.

The main threat posed by the ash is damage to jet engines, which can flame out and stall when silicates from the ash melt. The suspension of flights began on Thursday and may last at least into the weekend.  As of Friday, the volcano in Iceland was still erupting periodically.

All British airspace was closed on Thursday, with flights unlikely to resume until Saturday morning at the earliest.

More than 60 percent of Friday’s 28,000 scheduled flights across Europe were expected to be canceled. Between 5,000  and 6,000 flights were canceled on Thursday. Around half of Friday’s 600 scheduled transatlantic flights were expected to be canceled or delayed.

Airport closings include:

  • Scotland
  • Heathrow and Gatwick in Britain
  • Charles de Gaulle and Orly in Paris
  • Frankfurt
  • other hubs in Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.

Some travelers opted for trains, but the Eurostar train from France to Britain was quickly booked solid through the weekend.

The cloud of ash has been drifting at between 18,000 to 33,000 feet — and has generally not been visible from the ground.

As bad as being stuck on the ground is, flying through the ash could be even worse.  The New York Times offers this cautionary tale:

After the 1982 eruption of the Galunggung volcano in Indonesia, for example, a Boeing 747 flying to Australia from Malaysia lost power in all four engines because of ash and descended to 12,500 feet from 36,000 feet before pilots could restart the engines and make an emergency landing in Indonesia.

Check out some impressive visuals in this Bloomberg video:


[Image: Arni Saeberg/Bloomberg News via NY Times]

Tags: air travel, British airspace, Europe, flight cancellations, flight disruptions, UK, volcanic ash, volcano

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