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Europe Facing ‘Biggest Air Travel Shutdown Since WWII’

April 16, 2010

European air travel was in a state of chaos early Friday morning, as the continued eruption of ash from a volcano in Iceland has forced airports across the continent and in the UK to close.

According to Patrick Donahue of Bloomberg.com, airports in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Sweden were closed as of 7:00am CDT. Furthermore, Vienna Airport in Austria was scheduled to be closed at 6:00pm local time, and many flights out of Switzerland and Russia were being cancelled. British airspace was being restricted in what Donahue called some of “the most severe in U.K. aviation history.”

Alice Ritchie of the AFP news service called it “the continent’s biggest air travel shutdown since World War II” and noted that as many as 17,000 flights would be cancelled throughout Europe on Friday. Likewise, Brent Bowen of Purdue University Aviation Technologies Department told ABC News that it was the “most significant air traffic control event since Sept. 11.”

The growing no-fly zone is the result of eruptions emanating from a volcano located underneath the ice cap of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier. It began erupting early on Wednesday morning, and has not only remained active since then, but grown in intensity.

Perhaps most frightening is that experts don’t expect the issue to be resolved any time soon.

“This could potentially be a problem for weeks to even months,” Charles Mandeville, a volcanologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told ABC News on Friday.

“The eruption is ongoing and we are not expecting any change in the production of ash,” added Iceland’s Environment Ministry spokesman Gudmundur Gudmundsson, who was speaking to Reuters. “High level winds will keep dispersing the plume over Europe.”

Tom Bellander at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden also warns that the eruptions could eventually lead to health issues. As Bellander told news agency TT on Thursday, if and when the ash begins to descend, it could cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, which would be particularly problematic for those with respiratory problems.

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