“Ashpocalypse” wreaks havoc in European skies

[Peter Paul Media] — Britain’s air traffic control service [NATS] announced Friday that flight restrictions stemming from a volcanic eruption in Iceland will remain in place until at least 7 a.m. [UK time] on Friday. 

The eruptions, which began on Wednesday, occurred in a volcano in the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in southern Iceland and sent huge plumes of volcanic ash as high as 24,000 feet into the atmosphere, Britain’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre said.

The ash clouds have stranded millions of passengers and have caused the cancellation of thousands of flights since Wednesday, the largest disruption of civil aviation since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S.

Ireland’s Aviation Authority [IAA] announced Friday that it was lifting restrictions within Irish airspace “except for a block off the south coast of Ireland. This effectively means that Dublin Shannon and Cork Airports will be open for flights,” said the IAA in a statement.

“While our State airports have had the restriction lifted, the situation is still very serious throughout Europe. The majority of airspace and airports in the UK, France and Germany continue to have restrictions in place,” said IAA Director of Operations Donie Money.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, the two main airlines servicing north-western Europe, have cancelled all their flights until further notice. Passengers travelling to European airports were urged to check with their airline for the latest information on flight cancellations.

The International Air Transport Association [IATA] said Friday that the financial impact on airlines following the flight disruptions was in excess of $200 million U.S. per day in lost revenues for the airlines affected.

“In addition to lost revenues, airlines will incur added costs for re-routing of aircraft, care for stranded passengers and stranded aircraft at various ports,” said IATA in a statement.

The Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] says that volcanic eruptions, which send ash into the upper atmosphere, “occur somewhere around the world several times each year.”

Britain’s Health Protection Agency said the plume of volcanic ash currently in the atmosphere “is not a significant risk to public health because it is at high altitude.”

Although rare, flight crews over the years have flown through ash clouds and have reported seeing smoke or dust in the cockpit, an acrid odour similar to electrical smoke and multiple engine malfunctions — which occurred on a June 1982 British Airways flight, the FAA said.

On June 24, 1982, British Airways flight 009 flew into an ash cloud 180 kilometres south of Jakarta, resulting in the failure of the Boeing 747’s four engines.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing are damnedest to get them under the control. I trust you are not too much in distress,” announced Captain Eric Moody to his passengers.

The aircraft descended and Captain Moody was able to restart the engines and land safely in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The plane suffered minor damage and appeared to be sandblasted on its exterior. After repairs, it re-entered service but was since scrapped following 30 years of service.

A similar incident occurred in December 1989 aboard KLM flight 867.

The plane flew into an ash cloud near Mount Redoubt which caused all four engines to fail. Once the flight cleared the ash cloud, the flight crew restarted the four engines to make a safe landing in Anchorage, Alaska.

Unlike flight 009, however, the airframe of the 747 suffered significant damage and the planes four engines had to be replaced before they were put back into service.

Damage to aircraft engines from ash clouds are caused by particles entering the engines during flight, which form a hardened substance as it melts inside the engine. The substance, which is glass-like, which in turn causes it to melt, disrupts fuel flow and causes modern jet engines to flame out — a phenomenon in which flames can be seen exiting the rear of the engines.

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