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May 23, 2011

Iceland Volcano Eruption Not Expected to Significantly Disrupt Flights Monday

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Written by: BNO News
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Eurocontrol, the agency charged with coordinating air traffic management across Europe, said on Monday that it does not expect a significant impact after a volcano erupted in Iceland.

Grímsvötn erupts on May 21, 2011

Grímsvötn erupts on May 21, 2011. (Photo by Kris Olin, CC BY-NC-SA)

Grímsvötn, Iceland’s most active volcano, erupted on late Saturday afternoon at around 5.30 p.m. local time. It is believed to be the volcano’s largest eruption in about 100 years, sending a plume of smoke more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the air.

The ash plume forced Icelandic authorities to close all its airspace on Sunday morning and all commercial and private flights were canceled as a result. But affects on air traffic outside Iceland were limited as of Monday.

“No significant impact is expected today on flights as a result of the eruption of the Grimsvötn volcano in Iceland,” Eurocontrol said in an operational update.

However, according to the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) in London, depending on the continuing eruption of the volcano and the meteorological conditions, there is a risk that some ash clouds may reach parts of northern Europe by Wednesday.

As a result, Eurocontrol said it has for the first time activated the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) in order to coordinate a response that can mitigate any potential impact while maintaining established safety levels. EACCC was established by European Union (EU) Transport Ministers in May 2010 to respond to crisis situations.

The EACCC brings together representatives from Eurocontrol, the European Commission, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the EU Member States and air transport stakeholders. Its main role is to facilitate the management of crisis situations affecting aviation in the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) region.

The EACCC is further responsible for alerting the aviation community to an impending crisis and for proposing, coordinating and implementing the measures required to deal with it. A key function of the EACCC is therefore to keep all aviation stakeholders informed about the crisis, including the decisions that have been taken and the progress of the measures to deal with it.

Meanwhile, officials in Iceland said that they expect Keflavik International Airport to re-open later on Monday, although an exact time was not immediately given. But the re-opening of the airport is not expected before 7 p.m. local time.

“According to the newest weather and ash forecasts it is assumed that Keflavik airport will reopen tonight and flights will be back on schedule tomorrow,” Icelandair said in a statement. “If those forecasts will realize and no further disruptions will occur related to the eruption, Icelandair Group estimates that its economic damage due to this will be minimum and its EBITDA forecast of ISK 9.5 billion will remain unchanged.”

The Grímsvötn Volcano is situated about 220 kilometers (136 miles) east-northeast of the country’s capital Reykjavik and is located underneath Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. Eruptions at Grímsvötn are frequent and usually occur with an interval of a few years. Most of these eruptions last a few days and are small in volume.

Historical and geological records show that there have been around 60 to 70 volcanic eruptions over the last eight centuries in the Grímsvötn volcano. The latest eruptions occurred in the years 2004, 1998, 1996, 1983 and 1934. None of these eruptions threatened lives or inhabited areas and all except one are classified as minor eruptions.

Typical eruptions at Grímsvötn last from two to fourteen days and little or limited volcanic ash is associated with these eruptions. Visible volcanic ash rarely reaches farther than the perimeter of the glacier Vatnajökull and effects on commercial air-traffic is usually limited. During the eruption in 2004, restrictions were put on air-traffic to the north of Iceland for five days and trans-Atlantic flights were re-routed to the south of Iceland. No airport closures were in effect.

The volcanic activity in the Grímsvötn volcanic system is periodic, officials say, and active periods last from about 100 to 150 years with more restful periods of a few decades in between. A period of increased activity seems to have started with the eruption in 1983.

In 2010, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland caused an unprecedented disruption of air travel in northern Europe.

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