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Volcano ashes in Iceland

Airports in Europe closed for the third day

Apr 17, 2010

The Iceland volcano whose clouds of ash have closed European airports and airspace belched more columns of smoke and ash Saturday as countries across the continent extended their flight bans.
The Meteorological Institute in Reykjavik said Saturday morning that it had observed no change to the activity of the volcano near the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier on the southern part of the island.
Winds had turned to the south, meaning that the clouds of ash would continue to be driven across Europe.
Rain, which could dissipate the ash, was not in the immediate forecast.
As conditions for aviation were expected to worsen Saturday, countries around Europe kept planes on the ground for a third day.
Germany closed its airspace, all 16 of its international airports and regional airports until at least 2 pm (1200 GMT) Saturday.
The airports of northern France, including Paris' two airports, were closed until the same time
Britain extended the closure of its airspace until at least 7 pm (1800 GMT) and reversed its decision to lift restrictions on Scotland and Northern Ireland, hours after easing them, the BBC reported.
The flight cancellations have stranded tens of thousands of air travelers.

With a monstrous cloud of volcanic ash closing down airports from Britain to Finland to Austria on Friday, much of Europe was confronting a bizarre question: What do you do in a world without air travel?

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, returning from the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, was managing matters from his iPad in Madrid.

European royals, who had planned to attend the queen of Denmark's 70th birthday party in Copenhagen, sent their apologies.

And tens of thousands of ordinary would-be passengers turned to videoconferencing or made a mad dash for trains and ferries.

Plumes of ash from an Icelandic volcano have spread across 12 nations. As of Friday, 17,000 flights -- more than double the number Thursday -- had been grounded at some of the world's busiest international hubs, including those in Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt, Germany.

Many airports remained closed Saturday. British officials extended their closure of airspace until at least 7 p.m. local time and reimposed a ban over Scotland and northern England. France, Belgium and Switzerland also extended bans until 7 p.m. Airspace in northern Italy was to stay closed until midday, and Germany kept its international airports closed until at least 2 p.m.

Officials warned of an unprecedented bottleneck in global air traffic. Scientists, unable to estimate when the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano might end, predicted that it could take hours, days or far longer for European skies to clear of the ash particles that experts say could choke jet engines enough to shut them down.

The paralysis has not caused everyone to cancel plans. Despite widespread airport closures in Poland, authorities there said they would honor the wishes of the late President Lech Kaczynski's family and hold his funeral Sunday. But with meteorologists saying Polish airspace still might contain ash particles then, attendance by a number of world leaders -- including President Obama -- was in doubt. South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan announced Saturday he would not attend.

Many travelers in Europe with no options in the air chose land and sea. London taxi companies reported taking emergency bookings for fares for as far away as Paris, Milan and Amsterdam. Tickets to cross the English Channel by sea or tunnel were sold out.

"You're talking in excess of 1,000 pounds [$1,500]. This is not your average taxi fare," said Alistair Laycock, manager at Addison Lee, Europe's largest cab company. "We have never seen anything like this."

Businesses, meanwhile, fretted about perishables temporarily disappearing from store shelves, particularly because airport closures could be extended.

"Not to state the obvious, but the impact has been absolute," said John O'Connell, director of trade services at the British International Freight Association, a trade organization. "All air freight that would move in and around northern Europe has come to an abrupt halt."

Despite the volcanic cloud's B-movie trappings, its ash remained largely invisible above European capitals. That might not last. Although the ash has hovered at altitudes from 20,000 to 30,000 feet, health authorities in Scotland said Friday that they expected it to begin wafting to the ground by Friday evening, producing a dusty haze and a strong sulfuric smell akin to that of rotten eggs. The ash, officials said, did not pose serious health risks, although they warned people with respiratory conditions to "limit outside activities."

Forecasts indicated that the sprawling cloud was moving east and southeast of Iceland. But the problems were literally shifting with the wind, with some airports in Scotland and Ireland reopening Friday even as others in Estonia and Germany closed.

The closures have had a domino effect around the world, including in Washington. Howard University Hospital, for example, was forced to postpone a 30-doctor medical mission to Nigeria because its flight had a connection in Frankfurt.

Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said the volcano was affecting airports served directly by Dulles International Airport, such as those in London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Brussels and Moscow. Dulles serves 21 outbound and 21 inbound flights on those routes every day.

Asked how long the situation could last, Yingling said, "We just don't know. We're leaving that up to the meteorologists and volcano experts."

For the airlines, the costs have been significant: Losses are estimated at $200 million a day. For individuals, too, the losses have been painful.

Graham Tinsley, an award-winning chef, was set to take off Thursday with the Welsh National Culinary Team he heads to compete in an international contest in Singapore. The team raised $70,000 for the competition from local sponsors and put a year of planning into developing and testing a menu for 100 judges. The team pre-shipped cooking equipment, 500 pounds of Welsh lamb and sought-after sea salt to Singapore from an island off the Welsh coast this week.

Now stranded, Tinsley is petitioning the organizers of the FHA Culinary Challenge to put off his team's judging until Thursday, the competition's last day. But like many thousands of European air travelers grounded by the volcano, there is no telling whether the team members will manage to board a flight in time.

"This is the worst part," Tinsley said in a phone interview from the hotel he co-owns in Conwy, Wales. "We just don't know when that volcano is going to stop erupting or the winds are going to change. How long will it be? Days? Two weeks? And then how long for everyone to rebook? I just can't believe this is happening."

Airports in Europe closed for the third day

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