S Kalyana Ramanathan / London April 18, 2010
Flight navigation service provider says ash cloud changing shape
Air traffic remains suspended in the UK and most other parts of Europe for the third day, leaving several thousands passengers stranded in airports and hotel rooms, as southern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull (pronounced as ay-yah-FYAH’-plah-yer-kuh-duhl) volcano continues to spew ashes.
Navigation and weather experts expect the situation to remain grim over the weekend. So far, there has been no sign of any improvement to allow short-haul flights to resume operations. National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the UK’s flight navigation service provider, said the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland was moving around and changing shape.
“Based on the latest information from the Met Office, NATS advises that the restrictions currently in place across UK-controlled airspace would remain in place until at least 1 am (GMT) tomorrow,” NATS said in a statement.
NATS said it was looking for opportunities to make some airspace available within Scotland and Northern Ireland, when the ash cloud moved sufficiently, which might enable some domestic flights to operate under individual coordination with the air traffic controller (ATC).
UK Meteorological (Met) office later said it had detected ash dust settling over the UK and there were reports of dust reaching the ground. The Met office-commissioned Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) research plane flew over the North Sea on Friday afternoon and detected three distinct layers of ash, from fine particles at low levels to large particles around 8,000 feet.
“All these observations are consistent with our forecast plumes for where the ash cloud will spread and how it will mix through the atmosphere,” a Met office media release said.
Health experts believe these dust particles do not pose any major health risk to human beings. However, people with respiratory ailments have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible.
“We are also liaising with Health Protection Scotland and the Health Protection Agency and dust collected at Lerwick and Aberdeen has been analysed by Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Preliminary analysis has shown that the properties of the particles appear to be consistent with the properties of volcanic ash, but more detailed analysis is being undertaken,” the Met office said.
Aviation industry body International Air Transport Association (IATA) said its initial and conservative estimate of the financial impact on airlines was in excess of $200 million a day in lost revenues. In addition to that, airlines would incur added costs for re-routing of aircraft, care for stranded passengers and stranded aircraft at various ports.
IATA has set up its crisis centre in Montreal and is closely coordinating with Eurocontrol and European air navigation service providers. IATA represents some 230 airlines, comprising 93 per cent of scheduled international air traffic.
Though the situation of insufficient hotel rooms is yet to reach any alarming levels, UK’s hospitality industry body said its members were facing some problems. British Hospitality Association said eruption was causing problems to hotels with guests staying longer and fresh guests not arriving.
“London hotels are full and coping but, off course, all the forward booking schedules for the next few days are compromised.”
The only silver-lining to this dire situation is that air traffic restrictions are saving the atmosphere from 200,000 tonnes of carbon a day that aircrafts would have otherwise emitted by flying.