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Dejavu Sets In As Icelandic Volcano Ground 500 Flights

May 24, 2011

About 500 flights were grounded on Tuesday after ash from an Icelandic volcano moved its way through Britain and towards northern Europe.

The clouds caused flights in and out of Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland to be cancelled.

British Airways led the way in canceling flights as the ash-cloud from the Grimsvötn volcano spread eastwards.

“Approximately 500 flights were cancelled from the approximately 29,000 that would have been expected today across Europe,” said a statement from Brussels-based air traffic controllers Eurocontrol.

The cloud caused minor air traffic disruptions in Norway and closed a small part of Denmark’s airspace on Tuesday, and Eurocontrol said there was a “strong possibility” that it would spread to southwest Sweden by Wednesday.

“This would have some impact on flights. However, given the new procedures in place and the predicted movement of the ash cloud over the coming days, the actual impact on flights is expected to be relatively low,” it said in a statement.

According to weather charts produced by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center run by Britain’s Met Office, a low cloud of ash would sweep across northern Europe overnight Tuesday, taking in northern Germany, Poland and Scandinavia.

Authorities said the ash can damage planes and stop engines, but Ryanair flew a plane through Scottish airspace and it detected no ash on the aircraft.

The growing chaos threatens planning events for the G8 summit to the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United, which takes place at London’s Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Barcelona said its squad would fly to London on Tuesday due to the “uncertainty” caused by the volcano.  This is two days earlier than originally planned.

European Union transport commissioner Siim Kallas played down fears that the situation could get as bad as 2010, which is when a similar situation from Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull left thousands of travelers around the world stranded.

“We do not at this stage anticipate widespread airspace closure and prolonged disruption like we saw last year,” Kallas told a news conference.

Iceland’s Meteorological Office said activity at the volcano slowed Tuesday and the ash plume had dropped its peak altitude overnight

British transport minister Philip Hammond said the ash plume was a natural phenomenon “but the UK is now much better prepared to deal with an ash eruption than last year.”

According to the Met Office, the volatile weather has kept Grimsvötn’s volcanic ash moving.

U.S. President Barack Obama was forced to leave Ireland for London a day ahead of schedule on Monday night to avoid being stranded there.

Obama is among the leaders of the world’s major industrialized nations due to attend a summit in northwest France on Thursday.

Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis spokesman said he was forced to cancel a visit to Britain scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

Image Caption: Eruption of Grímsvötn Volcano, Iceland. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

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