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Volcanic ash shuts major UK, Dutch airports

Reuters
May 17, 2010 at 10:51am IST

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London: Britain and the Netherlands shut or planned to close major airports because of volcanic ash from Iceland on Monday, threatening large-scale air traffic disruption in Europe at the start of the working week.

With Ireland's Dublin airport already shut, the new closures brought an echo of last month when ash from the same volcano prompted a number of European countries to close their airspaces for nearly a week and travel chaos ensued in Europe and beyond.

Britain said it had closed London's Heathrow airport, Europe's busiest, and Gatwick airport to the south of the capital from 1 a.m. (0000 GMT) to 7 a.m. (0600 GMT). Other parts of British airspace were shut at the weekend.

Volcanic ash shuts major UK, Dutch airports

The same volcano prompted many European countries to close their airspaces for nearly a week last month.

Airports in Amsterdam and Rotterdam would close for at least eight hours from 6 a.m. (0400 GMT) on Monday, Dutch state television reported.

Other Dutch airports would not be affected, said the television, but as Amsterdam and Rotterdam were the country's two main airports the closures would effectively bring most air traffic in and out of the Netherlands to a standstill.

Amsterdam Schiphol is Europe's third-largest cargo airport and fifth-largest passenger hub.

In a statement on its website, Dutch airline KLM said: "We are currently working on a diversion plan for all affected flights to Amsterdam."

APRIL CHAOS

More than 100,000 flights were cancelled across Europe last month because of the volcanic ash forming a cloud over the continent.

Millions of people were stranded and airlines, already battered by the global economic downturn, lost $1.7 billion, the International Air Transport Association has said.

At the weekend, North Atlantic flights through Irish-controlled airspace were unaffected by the latest cloud of ash, with Shannon -- an important stopover for flights to and from the United States -- remaining open.

But information notices at Schipol airport on Monday showed some flights from the United States had been cancelled.

The volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland has been erupting with no sign of the explosive activity about to end and the ash plume has reached heights of 25,000 feet (7,620 metres), according to Britain's Meteorological Office.

"The ash cloud is expected to clear the UK during Tuesday as southwesterly winds become established during Monday," it said.

Volcanic ash contains tiny particles of glass and pulverised rock that can damage engines and airframes.

In 1982 a British Airways jumbo jet lost power in all its engines when it flew into an ash cloud over Indonesia, gliding towards the ground before it was able to restart its engines.

The incident prompted the aviation industry to rethink the way it prepared for ash clouds.

Railway companies laid on extra trains to cope with increased passenger levels resulting from the closure of airports.

Channel tunnel rail operator Eurostar said an extra 3,500 seats would be available for passengers between London and Paris.

British rail firm Virgin Trains said it would provide an extra 7,000 seats on Monday, mainly on the Birmingham to Glasgow and Edinburgh, and London to Glasgow routes.

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