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Icelandic volcanic ash alert grounds UK flights

15 Apr 2010 10:28 | Transport

Airline passengers are facing massive disruption across the UK after an ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Iceland grounded planes.

The Air Traffic Control Service (Nats) said no flights would be allowed in or out of UK airspace from midday to 1800BST amid fears of engine damage.

Airports operator BAA confirmed all flights at Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick would be suspended from midday.

And in Scotland, authorities have already shut all their airports.

The restrictions, in accordance with international civil aviation policy, were imposed after the Met Office warned ash could clog engines.

Passengers were advised to contact their carriers prior to travel.

'Significant disruption'

Experts have warned that the tiny particles of rock, glass and sand contained in the ash cloud would be sufficient to jam aircraft engines.

Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports were shut as Nats said it was restricting flights "in accordance with international civil aviation policy".

The ash cloud disrupted all flights to and from Manchester with a similar picture at Newcastle airport where all arrivals were cancelled and all outbound flights either cancelled or subject to indefinite delay.

Liverpool's John Lennon airport suspended all flights until at least 1300BST.

British Airways said it had cancelled all domestic flights for the whole of Thursday, which affected flights at London's Gatwick, Heathrow and City airports.

The company said it would refund its passengers or offer the option of rebooking.

Budget airline Ryanair said no flights were operating to or from the UK on Thursday and it expected cancellations and delays on Friday.

Birmingham airport warned of severe disruption with about 90 of flights cancelled, and there were problems reported at East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, Cardiff International and Bristol.

Most flights were suspended at Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport, with some in and out of Dublin airport also hit.

A Nats spokesman said: "The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre has issued a forecast that the ash cloud from the volcanic eruption in Iceland will track over Europe tonight.

"Nats is working with Eurocontrol and our colleagues in Europe's other air navigation service providers to take the appropriate action to ensure safety in accordance with international aviation policy."

Engines shut

The European air safety body, Eurocontrol, said the cloud of ash had reached 55,000ft and was expected to move through northern UK and Scotland by 1300BST.

Brian Flynn, assistant head of operations of its central flow management unit, told the BBC: "As it moves toward the Netherlands and Belgium it will dissipate and lose intensity, like any weather phenomenon. But we don't know what the extent of it will be."
 Further south, five easyJet flights due to depart from Stansted airport in Essex were cancelled, along with all northbound flights from Southampton and Newquay airports.

Bournemouth airport grounded a flight to Dublin but said all other departures were on schedule.

Met Office forecaster Philip Avery said the ash could take several days to clear.

He said: "It is showing up on imagery at the moment, extending down as far as the Faroes but it looks as though the wind will drag it a good deal further south.

"Nats has good cause to be very cautious about this because in about 1982 a British Airways jumbo had the unnerving experience of having all four engines shut down as it flew through a plume of volcanic ash."

There was a nearly identical incident on 15 December 1989 when KLM Flight 867, a B747-400 from Amsterdam to Anchorage, Alaska, flew into the plume of the erupting Mount Redoubt, causing all four engines to fail.

Once the flight cleared the ash cloud, the crew was able to restart each engine and then make a safe landing at Anchorage, but the aircraft was substantially damaged.

A BAA spokesman said: "Passengers intending to fly today are asked to contact their airline for further information."

Fears over the ash forced the Great North Air Ambulance - covering parts of North Yorkshire - to be grounded, but the Royal Air Force said it would maintain its search and rescue operations.

An RAF spokesman said: "We will continue to provide full search and rescue cover, however we will consider all requests we get on a case by case basis.

"The ash is mainly affecting the air traffic control radar but we can fly in cloud and reduced visibility.

The eruption under a glacier in the Eyjafjallajoekull area of Iceland is the second in the country in less than a month.

A Nats spokesperson said the volcano was still erupting.

Source:  BBC News

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