Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ash May Close German, Scandinavian Airports

Airports in Northern Germany and Scandinavia may close today as a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland drifts across the North Sea, according to projections from the U.K. Met Office’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center.
Airports in Bremen and Hamburg will have to shut down early -- and Berlin may have closures from early afternoon -- as volcanic ash moves over northern Germany, the DFS flight security office said last night. No start and landing permission will be granted to the airport in Bremen from 5 a.m. and in Hamburg from 6 a.m., DFS said on its website.

British Airways, Air France-KLM Group and United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL) were among carriers that scrapped flights to and from airports in Scotland and northern England yesterday, after ash from the eruption of the Grimsvotn volcano drifted through U.K. airspace.
Air France-KLM canceled 19 flights to and from airports in the U.K., Norway, Sweden and Germany today, it said on its website.
Ash from another Icelandic volcano closed European airspace for six days last year, halting 100,000 flights at a cost of $1.7 billion, according to the International Air Transport Association. While limits on flying have since been loosened, ash densities from the eruption of the volcano on May 21 are such that some areas of airspace were closed.
“We’re advising all passengers to consider that there may be disruption tomorrow,” said Stefanie Harder, a spokeswoman for Hamburg airport in northern Germany by telephone late yesterday. “That’s what the indications from the weather forecasts are strongly pointing towards.”
Declined to Forecast
DFS declined to give a forecast for the airport in Hanover, which lies on the edge of the contaminated area. It recommended that passengers contact their airline for any cancellations or delays.
About 500 flights of the region’s 29,000 were canceled yesterday, according to Eurocontrol, which oversees air traffic in Europe. The ash cloud was expected to have reached northern Germany by midnight and may reach Berlin during the day, the German weather service said yesterday.
“We have to consider that it may come to the closure of airspace,” Andrea Bartels, a spokesman for Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA), said late yesterday. “Our advice for our customers is to make sure that they have checked the status of the flight before they start their trip to the airport.”
Eurocontrol said yesterday that projections from the VAAC in London showed that there is a “strong possibility,” that the ash could affect parts of Denmark, southern Norway and southwest Sweden by today. Still, the effect on flights would be “relatively low” given the new restrictions in place, the agency said.
‘No Basis’
Ryanair Holdings Plc (RYA), Europe’s biggest discount carrier, said yesterday there was “no basis” for cancelations, and that it had yesterday operated a “verification flight” over Scotland in areas that the Met Office and the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority said contained high concentrations of ash. The airline said it found no evidence of dust in the atmosphere after inspecting the plane’s airframe, wings and engines.
Brian Flynn, operations chief at Eurocontrol, said yesterday in a Bloomberg Television interview that the dust presents a “very real risk,” to the safety of airplanes. The agency convened the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell May 23, a group established after last year’s eruption to bring airlines together with regulators during emergencies.
Eruption Abating
The volcanic eruption under Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull, is abating, Bjorn Oddsson, a geologist with the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik said yesterday.
The height of the ash plume from the volcano has diminished to as low as 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from 20 kilometers, Oddsson said. He predicts that the eruption’s “death certificate” could be issued as soon as this weekend.
While the Iceland volcano continues to erupt, no volcanic ash is expected over the U.K. from 1 a.m. local time, the national Air Traffic Services Ltd. said on its website.
Glasgow and Edinburgh airports expect flights to resume this morning after they were closed yesterday.
British Airways canceled more than 40 flights at Scottish airports yesterday and said trans-Atlantic services suffered “minor delays” taking longer routes to avoid Iceland. The airline carried out a verification flight last night in connection with the ash cloud, to determine procedures to continue flying “in accordance with risk-assessment methodology developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization,” it said in an e-mailed statement.
Scrapped Flights
BA’s parent, International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, fell 1.8 percent in London trading following a 5.1 percent decline yesterday. Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa AG dropped 1.5 percent and Air France-KLM (AF) closed 0.3 percent lower.
Continental Airlines scrapped two flights to Edinburgh and one to Glasgow from Newark, New Jersey, and said that with no planes available the return trips were also canceled. US Airways Group Inc., the only other U.S. carrier serving Scotland, said its Philadelphia-Glasgow flight landed as normal and that the return leg departed as scheduled at 10:30 a.m. local time.
The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority has revised its rules to let airlines fly in an ash density of two grams or less per 10 cubic meters of air. They can also operate where the density is two to four grams, provided they have had their safety case for doing so accepted, the CAA says, but flights are still banned at levels above four grams.
‘More Muted’
Fitch Ratings said yesterday that this week’s eruption will have a “more muted” financial impact than did the April 2010 event, which came as carriers were emerging from the recession.
“The European airline industry is in better shape,” said Sabrina Ran, an associate director at Fitch. “It’s too early to forecast any potential financial damages. Nevertheless, any disruption would be likely to be temporary, with no further material delay on the sector’s gradual glidepath to recovery.”
KPMG also said that the volcano will have a “limited” impact, though business travelers may delay trips for a few days, according to Ashley Steel, head of its transport practice.

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