Volcanic Ash Cloud From Iceland Grounds Flights Over Britain and Scandinavia

April 15, 2010, By Alex Ion

A massive volcanic ash cloud caused by an eruption in the southern part of Iceland plumed over continental Europe, mainly the British and the Scandinavian airspace, forcing airplanes to stand ground. Tens of thousands of passengers already lost their flights and those who’re supposed to fly later today, are being told not to get to the airport, at all.

A Nats spokesman said: “From midday today until at least 6pm, there will be no flights permitted in UK controlled airspace other than emergency situations. This has been applied in accordance with international civil aviation policy.”

For now, all airplanes coming to Britain will be diverted to France, where the airspace is currently open. But things may change soon as the Eyjafjallajökull volcano still erupts, spewing ash into the atmosphere, which means that all Scandinavia, France and Belgium are at risk of being closed down later today, or tomorrow.

So why where airplanes in the UK and Scandinavia grounded? When a volcano erupts, its ash consists of pulverized rock and glass. If a plane flies through the plume, these very small rocks and glass can jam aircraft machinery by shutting down the engines.

But why can’t airplanes avoid the ash cloud? The way things are built on an airplane, the radar can only pick up clouds of moisture — needless to say it won’t detect ash in the atmosphere.

“Even if in a best case scenario it clears after one day, there will still be disruption because aircraft will be in the wrong place and crew will be in the wrong place. There will also be a backlog of passengers to clear,” said Dr Steve Bond, lecturer in aircraft operations at City University London.

Unless Iceland has farted on the UK or elected a new Pope (which we know it didn’t happen, but we’ll never know for sure), the volcanic ash cloud is expected to be a security threat to flights until, at least, Friday, when it should begin to disperse.

Have you lost a flight these days (delayed or canceled)? How did that impact your travel plans?

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