22nd Mar 2018

Iceland volcano ash halts European flights

A large ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Iceland has grounded hundreds of European and transatlantic flights, with several UK airports shutting down as the pollution approaches British airspace.

Hundreds of flights to and from the UK, Sweden and Norway were delayed or cancelled due to the drifting debris on Thursday morning (15 April), as well as most transatlantic flights over northern Europe.

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  • Lava and ice: volcanic eruptions are common in Iceland (Photo: Orvaratli)

British Airways stopped all domestic flights on Thursday, while airports in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow were shut down.

The UK air traffic control agency, Nats, said it was closing the entire airspace north of London, "in accordance with international civil aviation policy." Many flights are set to be re-routed, causing disruptions in other air hubs in Europe.

"We took this decision in order to maintain safety. We continue to work with Eurocontrol and our colleagues in Europe's other air navigation service providers to take the appropriate action to ensure safety," the agency said in a statement.

The airspace in Norway and northern Sweden was also closed to traffic.

In Belgium, the Brussels airport announced it may be forced "to suspend all flights in the course of the day (Thursday)."

Volcanic ash, made of pulverised rock and glass, can jam aircraft engines and contaminate air inside the cabin. Weather experts say it could take days before the cloud disperses.

The cloud was formed when one of Iceland's volcanoes, Eyjafjallajokull, erupted on Tuesday (13 April) for the second time in a month. Some 800 residents were evacuated from the area, as lava running beneath a thick layer of ice caused torrents of meltwater to pour down the slopes.

Just some three weeks ago, the Eyjafjallajokull erupted for the first time in 200 years, with spectacular fountains of lava spewing into the air, in the ice-free part of the volcano.

Iceland's volcanic eruptions are a regular phenomenon, as the North Atlantic island is one of the most geologically active parts of the world.

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