Ash clouds closes airspace in France, Italy, Portugal

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Airspace above France, Italy and Portugal was closed Sunday and dozens of flights cancelled because of an ash cloud drifting over from a volcano in Iceland that caused air travel chaos last month.

French authorities said the cloud forced the suspension of about 20 flights at the airport in Nice, the nearest international airport to Cannes which is to host its flagship international film festival in three days' time.

Most of the affected planes were from British company easyJet and included flights to or from Paris, London, Geneva and other major European centres, airport officials said.

All flights to the city of Porto in nothern Portugal were suspended until 1200 GMT Sunday, airport officials there said, after authorities had cancelled dozens of flights in the country on Saturday because of risks from the ash.

"All flights have been cancelled until 1:00 pm (12H00 GMT) because of the closure of airspace above the region," an official at the city's Sa Carneiro international airport said.

"The airport is open but air traffic control operations are no longer possible because of the cloud," the official told AFP.

Italian authorities said separately they closed airspace in the north of the country between 0600 GMT and 1200 GMT for the same reason.

The civil aviation authority said in a statement that the closure affected Milan airports but those in Venice and Trieste, also in the north, were spared.

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 and eight million passengers affected. The airline industry said it lost some 2.5 billion euros.

The volcano began fresh and intensive ash eruptions overnight Thursday and caused Ireland and the Faroe Islands to shut their airspace for a time.

The ash caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights on Saturday as air traffic was disrupted in Spain, France and Portugal, while many transatlantic services were delayed as they skirted the plume of debris from the volcano.

Spanish air traffic was returning to normal Sunday, with the remaining three of around 20 airports closed on Saturday due to open in the morning, a spokesman for the Aena air control authority told AFP.

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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