Friday, April 16, 2010

Volcanic eruption in Iceland stops air traffic to London

S Kalyana Ramanathan & BS Reporters / London/New Delhi/Mumbai April 16, 2010

A volcanic eruption in Iceland on Wednesday afternoon spewed smoke and ash over many parts of northern Europe, disrupting air traffic.

Britain, in particular, was substantially affected. All flights into and out of the UK were cancelled for safety reasons, with all major airports ordered closed. The restrictions would be reviewed tomorrow.

The potential threat to airplanes from volcanic ashes is more than just a perceived one. In 1982, a Boeing 747 operated by British Airways lost power in all four engines when flying at 37,000 ft. The flight avoided a major catastrophe and it was discovered that the cause was volcanic ashes only after it had safely landed.

As many as 14 direct flights to London from India were cancelled by various airlines. They said any decision on the flights to be operated tomorrow would be taken only then.

However, flights from India to the other major destinations of Paris and Frankfurt weren’t affected.

“We will not be able to operate services from (the affected) airports until further notice. Customers booked to travel on a cancelled flight can claim a full refund or rebook their flight for a later date,” said a release from British Airways here.

Since it was not certain whether the restrictions on flights would continue on Friday as well — there were reports that the visibility and safety problems could continue for 36 hours, which would mean till well into tomorrow evening — airlines were declining to give any clear assurance.

Travel agencies are advising leisure travelers to avoid England and Nothern Europe for the time being. “Most people go to the UK for higher studies, business trips or to meet friends and relatives. Very few go for leisure. We are advising the leisure travellers to consider other locations and suggesting they avoid Northern Europe,” said Subash Goyal, chairman, Stic travel group.

“All flights for today have been cancelled. Airlines are permitting rescheduling without any extra charges. We are communicating with the people who booked with us and reviewing their travel plans,” said Sabina Chopra, co-founder, of a travel portal.

“If the grounding does continue for another day, we will likely refund passengers who may want to cancel or provide the option of flying to Paris,” said a spokesperson for Air India. Jet and Kingfisher Airlines were working on similar plans.

Flights to London constitute seven per cent of the total international capacity from India, according to data available from the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. The worst effected would be British Airways, which has a 39 per cent share of the capacity, followed by Jet which has 24 per cent. Then comes AI (21 per cent), Kingfisher (seven) and Virgin (five), says Capa.

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