Icelandic eruption fears allayed but situation being monitored

Airlines and operators are holding their breath hoping to avoid a repeat of last April’s Icelandic ash cloud crisis which cost the European industry billions in lost revenues and compensation.

Latest indications suggest that ash from Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano was unlikely to lead to the widespread travel disruption caused by last year’s Eyjafjallajokull eruption. But there was concern last night that there was a small chance that the ash cloud might drift towards Scotland by Tuesday.

Iceland’s main airport was shut but there was no disruption to other international flights after a plume of smoke 12 miles high rose from the volcano.

University of Iceland geophysicist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson told The Daily Telegraph that the eruption was “much bigger and more intensive than Eyjafjallajokull” last year but that the disruption would not be as widespread as last year because there was not as much wind to spread the ash.

The ash from this eruption was much coarser than last year’s, which is causing it to fall back to the ground quickly rather than floating long distances, he added.

A spokesman for European air traffic body Eurocontrol said: “There is currently no impact on European or transatlantic flights and the situation is expected to remain so for the next 24 hours. Aircraft operators are constantly being kept informed of the evolving situation.”

With winds currently blowing the ash northwards, authorities said there was little risk of any further disruption to European or transatlantic travel over the next 24 hours. An Abta spokesman said it was keeping a “close eye” on the situation but said it looked like the ash cloud “would not be a repeat of last year”.

The eruption of Eyjafjallajokul last April left an estimated 10 million travellers stranded as more than 63,000 flights to or from 23 European countries were cancelled. The disruption is estimated to have cost the global airline industry £130 million a day and prompted the collapse of 13 UK travel companies.

Transport secretary Philip Hammond said the UK and other European countries were better prepared and informed this year having agreed volcanic ash safety levels following last year’s crisis.

Earlier this year BA chief executive Willie Walsh told Travel Weekly that he did not expect to see another blanket closure of airspace after last year even is another ash cloud was to enter UK airspace. Walsh insisted last year’s response was an over-reaction and the closure was unneccessary.

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