Air travelers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Northern Europe on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 are being impacted by volcanic ash spewing 12 miles into the air from the eruption of Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland some 1,174 miles to the west of London, according to reports published by VOA News, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Voice of Russia, Australian Business Traveler, and other media sources on Tuesday, May 24, 2011.
Some 40 international flights have already been canceled at Iceland’s main Keflavik International Airport (KEF) by the coarse ash that first erupted last Saturday, May 21, 2011 sending plumes of black smoke upward into the jet stream, which eventually carried it towards Europe. Edinburgh (EDI), Inverness (INV), Aberdeen (ABZ), Newcastle (NCL), and Durham Tees Valley (MME) airports, have also experienced scrubbed flights.
BAA Limited, the largest airport operator in Britain, and the owner of London Heathrow Airport (LHR), said 19 out of a scheduled 1,388 flights in and out of Heathrow had been canceled today.
President Barack Obama was forced to cut short his visit to Ireland and the small village of Moneygall in County Offaly, to avoid Air Force One being trapped by the volcanic particles, which are a safety hazard to the operation of jet engines.
Falmouth Kearney, Mr. Obama’s great-great-great grandfather, immigrated from Moneygall to New York City at the age of 19 in 1850.
The ash from Grimsvotn volcano, which lies under the Vatnajokull glacier, about 120 miles, east of Reykjavik is much coarser than the ultra-fine particles from the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, making it also much heavier. This causes the particles dissipate faster, so that the effects on commercial aviation from this latest geologic incident are expected to be much less severe.
Grimsvotn volcano in the highlands of Iceland at the northwestern side of the Vatnajökull glacier, last erupted in 2004 and before that in 1998.
Last year, from April 14-20, 2010, plumes of smoke from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), canceled over 100,000 flights, stranded millions of passengers, cost the airline industry $1.8 billion, and had a $5 billion impact on the global economy.
The UK’s Met Office, which runs Europe’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), predicted that the plume from the volcano would spread largely northeast, but some ash would creep south and east, toward the crowded skies over northern Europe, as shown in the attached video clip and slide show included with this report.
British Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond, who came under criticism for last year’s massive flight cancellations, has said he is “not expecting disruption on the scale of last year”. Part of the reason is that the safety threshold for when aircraft can fly has been raised under new guidelines from 200 micrograms of ash per cubic meter, as it was last year, to 4,000 micrograms per cubic meter, an increase 20 times greater.
Some experts believed that the earlier standards were too conservative. Besides density, the composition of the ash particles is also important, although opinions vary.
According to the British newspaper the Guardian, Irish carrier Ryanair (FR) is challenging flight restrictions imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the British counterpart of the FAA in the U.S.. In a web site statement updated at 3:30 p.m. local time in Dublin, on May 24, 2011, the airline reported, “This afternoon Ryanair operated another flight, without passengers, from Glasgow to Edinburgh through an area designated by the CAA as ‘high ash concentration’. Again no evidence of ash was encountered either during the flight or during the post flight inspection.”
IATA is backing Ryanair, believing that the CAA is not in a position to adequately monitor the ash density, because its only aircraft is grounded.
IATA CEO Giovanni Bisignani wrote to the CAA saying: “It is astonishing and unacceptable that Her Majesty’s Government cashes £3.5 billion each year in Air Passenger Duty but is incapable of using a small portion of that revenue to purchase another Cessna to use as a back-up aircraft.”
In addition to Icelandair (FI), other carriers which have canceled flights include British Airways (BA), Aer Lingus (EI), Flybe (BE), KLM (KL), and EasyJet (U2) between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. today, mostly to and from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen airports, and also axed flights to and from Newcastle between 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
As with any weather related incident causing flight delays, passengers should always check directly with their carrier, for the latest flight information updates.
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