Northern German air traffic curtailed by ash cloud

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Northern German air traffic was grounded early Wednesday by ash spewed from Iceland's Grimsvoetn volcano, with airports in Berlin the latest to close.

Operations at Tegel and Shoenefeld airports would halt operations from 11:00 am (0900 GMT), air safety officials said.

In Hamburg, the country's second biggest city, there had been no take-offs or landings since 6:00 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 however.

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

Low-cost airline Ryanair had done the same until 11:00 am (0900 GMT), he added. Bremen normally sees around 100 flights per day.

German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer told public television ARD the situation 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.

Major German hubs in Frankfurt and Munich have not been affected, but Lufthansa expects to cancel about 150 flights on Wednesday to cities that lie in ash clouds' paths, a spokesman told AFP.

Air safety experts had warned on Tuesday that they would shut down airports in northern Germany from from 5:00 am (0300 GMT) owing to the threat ash is said to pose to airplane engines.

Many airlines say authorities exaggerate the danger however and they are now able to decide whether or not to fly if they can prove their aircraft can deal with the conditions.

According the the European Commission, the ash cloud was not expected to force widespread closures of European airspace.

The most active volcano in Iceland began an eruption on Saturday that is its most violent in at least a century.

Barely a year after a similar eruption forced the biggest closure of European airspace since World War II, ash-laden clouds caused flights in and out of Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland to be cancelled Tuesday.

Poland and Scandinavian countries are also expected to be affected.

Ramsauer told ARD however that 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."

© 2011 AFP

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