Europe will see less than half the typical number of planes travelling through its air space Friday, as aviation officials work to keep flights away from a troublesome volcanic ash cloud that is putting planes at risk.
The ash cloud originated from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, which began erupting Wednesday. Two days later, an ash cloud is drifting between 6 and 11 kilometres above the ground, along an Atlantic Ocean flight path that many planes travel through when crossing from the Eastern United States to Europe.
Aviation experts say the ash cloud creates a risk that debris could be sucked into the engines of airplanes travelling in its vicinity. Volcanic ash clouds can also cause visibility problems for pilots.
The circumstances have created temporary and fluctuating no-fly zones across Europe, including in Britain, Ireland, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Begium. Many flights out of Germany have been halted, as well as in Poland, where a major state funeral is scheduled to take place on Sunday.
CTV’s London Bureau Chief Tom Kennedy said Polish officials are monitoring the situation and the government has indicated “that as a last resort, they are prepared to delay the funeral” that is expected to draw leaders from around the world — including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“The problem is that it’s very unpredictable. They don’t know where this cloud is going to be moving, they also don’t know how quickly it’s going to dissipate,” Kennedy told CTV’s Canada AM from Warsaw on Friday morning.
“The latest we’ve heard from British authorities is that the cloud is moving very, very slowly, therefore it is very, very dense. So, if that is the case, it’s quite possible as we have heard already, that this situation is going to drag on, not just for the next few hours, but for the next several days.”
Flight problems spread globally
The flight delays in Europe have had a ripple effect around the world, said Eurocontrol, the European air traffic agency.
“We expect around 11,000 flights to take place today in European airspace. On a normal day, we would expect 28,000,” said Kyla Evans, a Eurocontrol spokesperson.
“The cloud of volcanic ash is continuing to move east and southeast.”
BNN’s Michael Kane said the delays are costing worldwide airlines a collective fortune.
“We’re being told that if air travel is disrupted for three days — and this is according to the Asia Pacific Aviation Centre ? a three-day shutdown would cost the industry as much as $1 billion,” Kane told CTV’s Canada AM on Friday morning.
“If this goes on for another day, we’re talking huge, huge amounts of money,” Kane added.
Stephen Green, a meteorologist and environmental engineer with AMEC, said the Eyjafjallajokull volcano is now spewing out less ash than it was two days ago, which will lessen the problems for European air travellers over the weekend.
But Green said the volcanic debris could eventually spread very far from its current location if it maintains a position of 10 kilometres or more above sea level.
“Ten kilometers is pretty much the magic mark because the upper layer of the atmosphere is called the troposphere. Basically, it’s a river of fast-moving air circling the Earth,” Green told CTV’s Canada AM from St. John’s, N.L.
“If it gets into the troposphere, it could extend for thousands and thousands of miles.”
Some parts of Europe expect some improvement by the end of Friday, such as in France, where some planes will be allowed to land at three Paris airports for a short period of time. In Sweden and Norway, flights were banned in their respective capital cities, though air travellers are now able to land in some northern cities. In Ireland, airports reopened in Dublin and Cork on Friday, though some restrictions were still in place in the country’s airspace