Ash disrupts Europe airspace, Germany, Italy re-opens


Italy and Germany reopened their airspace yesterday after volcanic ash forced hundreds of flights to be cancelled, leaving restrictions in place in parts of Portugal, Spain, Austria and the UK.

Southern German airports in Munich, Stuttgart and some regional airstrips reopened on Sunday evening and German air traffic control body DFS said it did not expect German air space to be affected by the cloud on Monday.

Austrian aviation agency Austro Control said it would shut down the nation’s airports, most of them until early morning, while its British equivalent NATS said airfields in the Scottish islands also closed yesterday.

The spread of ash from an erupting volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland grounded much of European air traffic for nearly a week in mid-April. Airlines had to cancel around 100 000 flights, stranding millions of passengers.

Some 24 500 flights were expected in European airspace yesterday, about 500 below average for this time of year, air traffic agency Eurocontrol said in Brussels.

Trans-atlantic flights remain affected and are required to undergo significant rerouting, leading to some delays, the agency said earlier in a statement. “However, significant numbers of cancellations have not occurred.”

The number of flights in Europe on Saturday totalled 22 424 about 200 below normal levels, Eurocontrol said.

Italian airports reopened from 1200 GMT on Sunday, following closure of a large part of the airspace in the north of the country in the morning, the civil aviation authority ENAC said.

Airports in the eastern part of northern Italy and in Venice, Trieste and Rimini had remained open, ENAC said.

Several northern Spanish airports, including Barcelona, reopened on Sunday after being shut on Saturday. But the Spanish civil aviation authority said a change in the direction of the ash cloud had forced them to close seven airports as of 1400 GMT: Asturias, Santander, Bilbao, Salamanca, Valladolid, Leon and Burgos. All other airports were open.

Ireland expects to impose restrictions to traffic at western airports later on Sunday as ash from the Icelandic volcano drifts back over the country.

In Portugal, over 150 flights were cancelled as the airport in the country’s second city, Porto, remained shut and was not expected to reopen until 0600 GMT, air traffic control said.

The French aviation authority said some 30 flights from Paris to southern Europe were cancelled, although French skies were open.

Volcanic ash is abrasive and can strip off aerodynamic surfaces and paralyse an aircraft engine. Aircraft electronics and windshields can also be damaged.

Industry body the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said airlines have lost more than $1.7 billion of revenue due to the volcano crisis, which will be reflected in earnings for the quarter through June.

German flag carrier Lufthansa said it had lost nearly €200 million ($268.3 million) in total.