UK & World News

  • 24 August 2014, 11:52

Iceland Volcano Fears: Airlines On Alert

Aviation authorities are watching for developments in Iceland, where planes are on high alert after a volcanic eruption.

The country has closed airspace directly above Bardarbunga volcano after it began erupting under the ice of Europe's largest glacier following thousands of earthquakes.

The UK's air traffic control organisation NATS and safety regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) say they are ready to take action if ash is detected.

Continued exposure to concentrated levels of volcanic ash can lead to the total failure of aircraft engines.

A Virgin Atlantic flight from London Heathrow to San Francisco was diverted away from the volcano on Saturday as a precaution.

But flights are now operating normally, a spokesman for the airline said.

An eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southern Iceland four years ago produced an ash cloud that led to a week of aviation chaos.

More than 100,000 flights were cancelled.

A spokeswoman for NATS said it was "monitoring the situation" and working with other agencies, including the Met Office and Civil Aviation Authority.

NATS will help determine what impact the eruption will have on UK airspace and advise airline customers accordingly, she added.

A Met Office spokeswoman said: "We are in close contact with the Icelandic Met Office, but currently they tell us that the eruptions are sub-glacial, so no ash has made it to the surface.

"If ash does make it to the surface, we will run our model which will indicate where any ash would go, and we will inform the CAA and NATS.

"They will then make the decision on how that will affect any air flights."

Minutes before the eruption, Icelandic officials raised the aviation alert to red - the highest level.

The red alert warns that an eruption could cause "significant emission of ash into the atmosphere".

Scientists who flew over the ice cap on Saturday afternoon said they saw no visible signs of the eruption on the surface.

Iceland's Met Office said it is not clear when, or if, the eruption would melt through the ice and send steam and ash into the air.

The ice is between 330ft to 1,300ft thick.

An easyJet spokesman said the airline is preparing to put contingency plans into action, using specialist technology to detect and charter any ash created.

"EasyJet will use this and other data provided by the authorities to determine what, if any, changes it should make to its flying programme," he said.

Flybe said it was monitoring the situation and all of its flights are operating as normal.

Aviation chiefs are confident the industry is much better prepared to deal with the effects of an ash cloud than it was in 2010.

The CAA said improvements in observing and forecasting where ash is and its density have been made, and there is a new radar in Iceland to detect ash in the atmosphere.

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