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Eruption Continues, UK Airspace Could Reopen Monday

April 19, 2010

As ash caused by a volcanic eruption crippled European air travel for a fourth straight day on Sunday, hope that the travel restrictions could soon be lifted came in the form of a few successful test flights.

On April 18, a British Airways Boeing 747 jumbo jet successfully flew through the cloud of volcanic ash, travelling from Heathrow Airport in London out over the Atlantic Ocean during a three hour flight. A British Airways spokesman and told the AFP, “The conditions were perfect and the aircraft encountered no difficulties.”

Similar test flights conducted by Dutch, German, and French airlines achieved similar results, according to various media reports, and a spokeswoman for one of the companies that conducted test flights told CNN.com that European airspace was safe except for the skies above Iceland. A total of 4,000 to 5,000 flights took place throughout the continent on Sunday, or just 20-percent of those scheduled.

The Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) has reported that they will re-open their air space to all flights on Monday, and several locations in France, Germany, and Spain were open for air travel on Sunday. Officials in other nations seemed hopefully that travel restrictions would be lifted following a meeting of transportation officials to discuss the test flight results.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas told CNN that, if the cloud continued to move as it has been, at least half of European airspace would be “risk free” on Monday–adding, however, that they would have to wait and “see”¦what the picture shows.”

One thing is certain, Kallas told the Associated Press (AP): “It is clear that this is not sustainable. We cannot just wait until this ash cloud dissipates.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing eruption at the volcano located beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier continued to dump a blanket of ash on parts of Iceland, forcing many farmers to move their livestock indoors but sparing some of the country’s more populous urban areas.

“We are all doing our utmost to make sure that the farming community in this area survives this disaster,” Icelandic President Olafur Grimsson told Reuters Television on Sunday. “What we are experiencing here in Iceland is forces of nature on display… And that is a spectacle–the combination of volcanic eruption and glaciers you cannot see anywhere else in the world.”

The Meteorological Office claims that the tremors associated with the eruption have grown more intense, Reuters is reporting, but that the ash column was less than half as high as it was during earlier stages of the eruption. Furthermore, officials there believe that the volcano has melted roughly 10-percent of the glacier, which is located some 75 miles south of the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.

Experts are uncertain how much longer the eruption will last.

“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 April 16.

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