Ash cloud grounds flights in southern Europe

9th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Scores of flights in Portugal, Italy and France were cancelled Sunday as some airspace was closed because of a volcanic ash cloud drifting over from Iceland that caused air travel chaos last month.

All flights to the city of Porto in northern Portugal and the Azores were suspended until 2300 GMT, airport officials there said, following the cancellation of dozens of flights in the country on Saturday because of risks from the ash.

Some 39 flights were also grounded at Lisbon's airport, as weather officials warned the ash cloud would cover the capital by Sunday evening.

The cloud "is expected to move further south and cover all of the north and south of Portuguese territory, including Lisbon, by the end of the day," Joao Andrade of Portugal's weather service told AFP.

Lisbon is the arrival point for Pope Benedict XVI who begins a four-day visit to Portugal on Tuesday, which the Vatican said Sunday was on schedule despite the air traffic disruptions.

"At the present time, we expect no change to the programme" of the pope's visit, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told AFP.

Italian authorities were forced to close airspace in the north of the country between 0600 GMT and 1200 GMT as the ash cloud hovered over the peninsula, but they expected to reopen the skies by early afternoon.

The civil aviation authority Enac said in a statement that the closure affected Milan airports, cancelling nearly 300 flights, and in Turin some 30 flights were grounded after the airport was shutdown at 0600 GMT.

In France, the airspace remained open but at least 70 flights bound for southern Europe were grounded at airports in Paris, Lyon, and Nice, the nearest international airport to Cannes which is to host its flagship international film festival in three days' time.

The Eyjafjoell volcano began erupting on April 14 and caused travel chaos worldwide with airspaces closed over several European nations for a week because of fears the ash would damage aircraft engines with fatal results.

It was the biggest aerial shutdown in Europe since World War II, with more than 100,000 flights cancelled affecting some eight million passengers. The airline industry said it lost about 2.5 billion euros (3.2 billion dollars).

The volcano began fresh and intensive ash eruptions overnight Thursday and closed Ireland's airspace for a time, and was again affecting the island nation on Sunday.

Irish airports at Donegal, Sligo and Ireland West (Knock) on the western coast face restrictions from 1400 GMT Sunday while Galway will be disrupted from 1500 GMT and Kerry from 2100 GMT, authorities said.

Spanish air traffic was returning to normal Sunday, although four airports in the north of the country remained closed until at least 1400 GMT, air control authority Aena said.

More than 900 flights were cancelled in northern Spain on Saturday with the major hub of Barcelona among the airports that were closed.


© 2010 AFP

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