Volcano shuts Iceland airports


Iceland has shut its main airport after a volcanic eruption and other airports on the island are likely to close during the day, the civil aviation authority said today.

Ash from an erupting Icelandic volcano could reach northern Scotland by Tuesday and parts of Britain, France and Spain by Thursday or Friday if the eruption continues at the same intensity, airlines were warned this evening.

The warning is based on the latest 5-day weather forecasts, but is being treated cautiously because of uncertainties over the way the volcano will behave and interact with the weather.

Iceland's airports were closed today due to fears that ash from the Grimsvotn volcano, which began erupting yesterday, could threaten the safety of passenger aircraft.

With winds currently blowing the ash northwards, authorities said there was little risk of any further disruption to European or transatlantic airspace over the next 24 hours.

But as low-pressure weather systems move into Europe and Scandinavia, there are concerns that northwesterly winds capable of dispersing ash towards the rest of Europe will pick up.

Airlines were told to brace for the possible further spread of ash later in the week during a conference call with weather experts and officials responsible for European airspace.

Ash could reach northern Scotland by midday on Tuesday and other parts of Britain, western France and northern Spain by Thursday or Friday if nothing changes, weather officials said.

A spokeswoman for Eurocontrol, which co-ordinates air traffic flows, declined to comment, referring to the latest published updates which ruled out major problems in the next 24 hours.

The new warning assumes the volcano will continue to spew ash at the same rate and there is no change in forecasts over a period of five days, both of which are uncertain.

Yesterday's disruption took place amid mobile, low-pressure air in the north Atlantic whose movement is not easy to predict.

That contrasts with a stable high-pressure weather pattern during a crisis a year ago when a pervasive and slow-moving cloud of ash forced a six-day shutdown of European airspace, stranded tens of thousands of people and damaging economies.

Today, Britain was considering whether to send up a special aircraft capable of monitoring the concentration of ash, but a decision had not yet been taken, officials said.