16,000 flights cancelled in Europe due to Volcanic Eruption in Iceland

On Wednesday, the volcano under Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull (“AY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul”) glacier erupted, pushing a cloud of ash and particles 6-9,000 metres into the air.
EY-ya-fyat-lah-YOH-kuht...........It’s simple.
“Eyja” is the Icelandic word for island.
“Fjalla” means mountain.
“Jokull” is glacier.

How Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano finally blew its top?

Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano is in the second phase of an eruption that began last month. The eruption started when subterranean liquid rock -magma -found a weak spot in the earth’s crust and burst through. Because of its location between glaciers, the eruption was largely ash-free.

But then a second, more powerful eruption followed, through a rupture close to the volcano’s glacier-covered summit. Fire met ice and fire won. Huge amounts of ice melted and flash floods followed. Once the eruption melted away the icy lid, some 150m (492ft) thick, the volcano began to belch ash into the atmosphere.

As magma rises from the earth’s bowels, it experiences a pressure drop. Gas dissolved in the magma starts to emerge and forms bubbles, as it does in champagne when the cork is released. When the boiling fragments of magma hit cold air and water, they freeze into dust particles, driven high up into the atmosphere by the power and heat of the eruption.

Concerns the microscopic particles could cause aircraft malfunctions shut down air space over Britain, Ireland, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Belgium. Flights were halted at Europe's two busiest airports — Heathrow in London and Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris — as well as dozens of other airports, 25 in France alone.

A volcano near Eyjafjallajokull glacier was dormant for 200 years but awoke and erupted on March 20, 2010 causing a 1 kilometer long fissure on an ice field, spewing lava hundreds of meters high. The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano forced the country to close its airspace and evacuate more than 500 people. The Eyjafjallajokull volcano is located in south Iceland, about 120 km (75 miles) east of Icelandic capital city Reykjavik.

Since Eyjafjallajokull Volcano erupted below the ice, there were concerns that it could cause severe flooding (similar to eruption under Vattnajoekull glacier which destroyed part of the Ring Road and nearby bridge) but the lava started moving down a gorge, not towards the ice caps so this threat has been reduced. However, based on historical reports, when Eyjafjallajokull Volcano erupts, nearby Katla Volcano follows. Throughout history, Katla always erupted after Eyjafjallajokull, the only question is when and how strong her eruption will be. Geologists not only from Iceland, but certainly from all over the world tend to agree that if Katla goes off, the eruption could have global consequences.

Eyjafjallajokull Glacier is the fifth largest in Iceland. The last time Eyjafjallajoekull Volcano erupted, it was the year of 1821.

Some 16,000 flights in European airspace on Saturday have been cancelled due to the cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland that is still lingering over the continent, Eurocontrol said. "No landings and take-offs are possible for civilian aircraft across most of northern and central Europe," the European air traffic coordinating agency said in a statement.

"Southern Europe -- including Spain, the southern Balkan area, southern Italy, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey -- remain open and flights are taking place in these areas," it said. "Forecasts suggest that the cloud of volcanic ash will persist and that the impact will continue for at least the next 24 hours," it said, referring to Sunday at around 0830 GMT.

Whereas a normal Saturday would see 22,000 flights in Europe, Eurocontrol said only about 6,000 would be operating -- and out of a routine 300-odd incoming transatlantic flights, a mere 73 had so far arrived. Airspace was closed on Saturday in whole or in part in 21 European countries, including all of Britain and Germany, plus northern France and northern Italy.

"In some of these areas, the upper airspace has been made available, depending on the observed and forecasted area of ash contamination," the Brussels-based agency said. "However, it is difficult to access this airspace as in most cases the surrounding area is not available for flights."

The mountainous plume of ash generated by an Icelandic volcano is costing the global airline industry US$200 million a day in lost revenue, with no clear estimate on when regular service will resume that figure is expected to rise.

On Friday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade body that serves 230 airlines representing 93 per cent of air traffic, released an early estimate of the financial fallout from the eruption.

IATA called the estimate "initial and conservative." An IATA spokesperson said it was too early to calculate the costs airlines will incur for re-routing of aircraft, hotel costs and care for stranded passengers and the recovery of stranded aircraft at various ports.

Planes are also grounded in Germany including Düsseldorf, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin and the airspace around Frankfurt, and parts of Poland including Warsaw's airport.

On Friday, Eurocontrol, the European air traffic agency, said airline service was cut by more than half, with only 11,000 flights expected to operate in Europe - compared to the usual 28,000.

John Strickland, director, JLS Consulting, an air transport consultancy firm in London, England said the economic impact could surpass the costs associated with the shut down of air traffic following 9/11 because of the impact on Africa, Middle Eastern and Asian markets.

It is difficult to predict how well the airlines will fare if planes remain grounded, he said.

“This is a situation where we are not simply talking about operating costs going up, we are talking about hemorrhaging revenue,” said Strickland.

“Those who have the least in the bank, the least access to liquidity and loan finance are the ones who are going to be the most exposed.”

Air Canada has stopped flights to London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Geneva.

The loss of the London route is probably costing Air Canada between $2-3 million a day, said Joseph D'Cruz with the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management with the University of Toronto.

“When they stop flying the loss in profits is small but the losses that come about because of fixed costs that are not being covered are very substantial,” said D’Cruz. “So it is pretty serious, but it is short-term.”

D’Cruz said he doesn’t expect revenue generated through economy travel to suffer long term, but when high-end flights are suddenly halted people explore other less costly options.

This event could result in a 5 per cent decrease in business travel long-term on transatlantic flights, which account for 50-60 per cent of Air Canada’s revenue on those routes, he said.

Douglas McNeill, a transportation analyst with Charles Stanley Securities in London, England, said larger European airlines, like British Airways, lose more than $15.5 million every day their planes are grounded.

“If the disruption continues for many more days then the financial damage will start to get a bit more painful, but for the time being it is limited.”

British Airways “has nearly ($3.1 billion) in the bank so the loss of ($15.5 million) is neither here nor there in terms of liquidity or solvency terms.”

McNeill said there used to be relatively weak players in the European airline industry, but high fuel prices and the recession squeezed them out.

“It was carnage,” he said.

“So the airlines that remain have had their business models tested in adversity and have shown themselves to be resilient.”

McNeill said on Friday, European airline stocks were “all off a little bit,” but described the declines as small falls when taken in context of an industry that has been enjoying a healthy run.

With inputs from news agencies


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