Iceland volcano grounds Kenya flights

April 15, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 15 – Kenya Airways has cancelled all flights into and out of London and Amsterdam, following the closure of major airports across Europe.

The airline’s Chief Executive Officer Titus Naikuni said in a statement late on Thursday that their flights would remain grounded “until further notice”.

“Operations at Heathrow Airport have been closed for 24hours starting 1000hrs local time and as a result KQ 101/15th APR from London to Nairobi and KQ 102/15APR from Nairobi have been cancelled,” said Mr Naikuni.

“In Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport will be closed at 2100hrs local time. KQ 116/15APR is expected to land at 1700hrs as scheduled. However KQ 117/16APR to Nairobi is uncertain and a decision to operate is based on advice by the Netherlands Civil Aviation Authority (RLD) and the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as our partner and handling agent.”

A powerful volcanic eruption in Iceland, spewed clouds of ash that disrupted air traffic across northern Europe on Thursday, and a geophysicist warned the eruptions could last "a long time."

Ash from the second major eruption in Iceland in less than a month blew eastwards across the Atlantic, closing major airports more than 1,000 miles (1,700 kilometers) away.

Britain, Denmark, Norway and Sweden all shut down their airspace because the ash was a threat to jet engines and visibility.

There was major disruption in Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

More than 300 flights out of London\’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports and others in Britain were cancelled, including transatlantic services.

Kenya Airways operates daily flights to London and Amsterdam.

British Airways has cancelled all flights into and out of Britain until at least Friday morning, due to ash drifting from a volcanic eruption in Iceland.

"We have cancelled all our flights for the rest of the day," said a spokesman, after an earlier announcement that British airspace would be closed from 1100 GMT until at least 1700 GMT on Thursday.

BA’s country Director for Kenya George Mawadri told Capital News that a flight from Heathrow had already departed before the closure was effected and was due in Nairobi later on Thursday.

However, a flight from Nairobi back to London may be affected.

Many flights from the rest of Europe to North America would have to be rerouted because they normally go through British airspace, officials said.

The ash was drifting at an altitude of about 5.0-6.0 miles (8.0-10 kilometers) and could not been seen from the ground. But experts said it posed a major threat to air traffic.

In the past 20 years, there have been 80 recorded encounters between aircraft and volcanic clouds, causing the near-loss of two Boeing 747s with almost 500 people on board and damage to 20 other planes, with repair costs totalling hundreds of millions of dollars, say experts.

Icelandic airports remained open as wind was blowing ash away from the island.

"Flights to and from Iceland are still ok. The wind is blowing the ash to the east," Hjordis Gudmundsdottir of the Icelandic Airport Authority told AFP.

"It\’s amazing really," she said. "Things here should be fine for the next 12 hours at least, and we think probably all day, judging from the weather forecast."

The volcano on the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southern Iceland erupted just after midnight on Wednesday.

Smoke coming out of the top crater stacked more than 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) into the sky, meteorologists said. Icelandic public broadcaster RUV reported that a 500-metre fissure had appeared at the top of the crater on Wednesday.

Lava melted the glacier, causing major flooding which forced the evacuation of between 700 and 800 people. Evacuees were being directed to Red Cross centres.

"We have two heavy floods coming out from the melting of the Eyjafjallajokull glacier," police spokesman Roegnvaldur Olafsson told AFP from near the site of the eruption late Wednesday.

The eruption in a remote area about 125 kilometres (75 miles) east of Reykjavik was bigger than the blast at the nearby Fimmvorduhals volcano last month.

"It is very variable how long these eruptions last. Anywhere from a few days to over a year," Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, a professor of geophysics and civil protection advisor in Iceland, told AFP.

"Judging from the intensity of this one, it could last a long time," he added.

"There were more than 250 metres (820 feet) of thick ice on top of the crater. That quickly melted, causing massive flooding which caused some damage yesterday," Gudmundsson said.

Olafur Eggertsson said he had been forced to evacuate his farm, which lies in the path of one of two large floods of melt water coming from the glacier.

"We heard a lot of noise and saw mud and soil suddenly rushing down from the mountain. Just 30 minutes later we had mud and soil and a giant flood running into our dyke above the farm," Eggertsson told AFP.

His family left all their animals behind in the rush to escape.

"We have 200 animals on our farm: cows and sheep who are all inside now. It takes some time for the dykes to be destroyed and I don\’t know yet if they are in danger, but we are extremely worried," he said.

Last month, the first volcano eruption at the Eyjafjallajokull glacier since 1823 — and Iceland\’s first since 2004 — briefly forced 600 people from their homes in the same area.

That eruption at the Fimmvorduhals volcano, which gushed lava for weeks, ended Tuesday, experts said.


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