Volcano ash cloud closes north German airspace

25th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

An ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano reached northern Germany Wednesday, forcing the closure of airports from Hamburg to Berlin, amid fears of widening European air traffic chaos.

The cloud is the second from an Icelandic volcano in barely a year to disrupt European air traffic and air traffic controllers said 700 flights were expected to be cancelled across Germany alone on Wednesday.

But in good news for travellers geologists in Iceland said that activity at the volcano appeared to be over at least for the time being and the ash plume at the site of the eruption had almost disappeared.

"There has been no activity since about 0200 GMT this morning," Sigthrudur Armannsdottir of the Icelandic Meteorological Office said Wednesday, adding that "it's too soon to say the eruption is (completely) over."

Air traffic disruption in Germany had not affected major German hubs in Frankfurt and Munich Wednesday morning, but Lufthansa, the country's largest air carrier, said it expected to cancel some 150 flights from cities that lie in cloud's path.

In the northern port city of Hamburg, the country's second largest city, take-offs or landings were cancelled as of 06:00 am (0400 GMT), an airport spokesman told AFP.

He was unable to say how many of the airport's 453 daily flights would be affected.

In Bremen, another northern German port, traffic was halted at 05:00 am (0300 GMT) and service by Lufthansa was cancelled until 04:00 pm (1400 GMT), an airport spokesman said.

Low-cost airline Ryanair also cancelled flights until at least 11:00 am (0900 GMT), he added. Bremen normally sees around 100 flights per day.

Air safety officials said Berlin's two airports, Tegel and Schoenefeld, would also be closed as of 11:00 am local (0900 GMT) because of the danger posed to jet engines as the ash cloud drifted south.

The most active volcano in Iceland, Grimsvoetn, began erupting on Saturday, its most violent activity in at least a century, sending a plume of smoke and ash shooting 20 kilometres (12 miles) into the sky.

Just over a year ago, ash spewing from another volcanom, Eyjafjoell, caused the biggest aerial shutdown in Europe since World War II, affecting more than 100,000 flights and eight million passengers.

On Tuesday, some 500 flights were grounded across northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland as the cloud drifted by, but British airspace was reported clear Wednesday morning.

In the Netherlands, disruption was minimal Wednesday morning.

Passengers at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport "may see some flights to Germany -- Hamburg, Hannover, Bremen and now Berlin being disrupted, but otherwise operations continue as normal," Dutch air traffic control spokeswoman Marjolein Wenting told AFP.

The cloud was not expected to directly affect Dutch airports on Wednesday or Thursday, she added.

Further east, Denmark, which Tuesday had closed a small area of its airspace because of the cloud, said the situation had since returned to normal.

"The latest readings have shown there is no longer a concentration of ash in Danish airspace, allowing us to fully reopen it", Camilla Hegnsborg, a spokeswoman for air traffic control Naviair told AFP.

Airspace over parts of the North Sea remained closed however, while Denmark, which is responsible for Greenland's airspace, said it had also ordered the closing of several areas surrounding it.

German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer told ARD public television the situation in Germany was expected to improve later in the day.

"Security is the top priority but we can say that the situation will get better later today," Ramsauer said.

The minister also said the German government had taken measures following the events last year and that the country was now "in a much better position to control the situation."

Airports in Bremen and Hamburg "will probably reopen only in the afternoon," he added.

Around 500 of some 29,000 flights were cancelled in Europe on Tuesday because of the cloud, European air traffic controllers said.

Many airlines, which suffered financially from last year's shutdown, say authorities are exaggerating the danger posed by the cloud.

© 2011 AFP

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