Most of the European airspace – that of 19 European countries in particular – have been closed for three days by now, since the Icelandic Volcano, located below the Eyjafjallajoekull Glacier has started to spread ash in the air on April 13, 2010, creating an enormous ash cloud in the atmosphere that went up to reach 36000 feet or 10 kms – dangering any airplanes flying through it.
This flight disruption is the biggest since September 11, 2001, and has stopped travelers on all six continents since last Thursday. Unlike some of the recent volcanic ash-clouds, this particular one flew in and above one of the most congested airspaces in the world – changing the plans of tens of thousands of people. My friends on facebook have been complaining for two days in countless posts: some of them were to fly to Marrakech from London, one was expecting her Mother for a visit in Ireland, some were to spend the weekend in Istanbul, or flying to Seattle for business, and one friend in Bosnia was waiting for his aunt to visit. A colleague scheduled head back to Dallas on Sunday was rebooked for next Thursday as the earliest possible option… All of them were influenced by this volcano in Iceland. The funniest thing is that nobody can actually see this ash-cloud, other than viewing sunsets that are more red and colorful than usual, or when looking at meteorologist images. Or when looking at the air traffic above Europe live on Flightradar 24 – that shows no planes in Western Europe (as seen above).
The reason is simple: It is dangerous to operate jet engines in air that has such concentrated micro dust and even glass and ash particles originating from the volcano. You can read more about why it is dangerous here.
The ash has been spreading out over the last few days, with its concentration falling constantly, and also moving downwards. But even if it has been descending to 6000 metres and below in most countries – the planes still have to cross this area during take-off and landing, thus the danger is still present. Therefore as a pre-caution all 19 European countries have been extending the closure since they imposed it step-by-step North-to-South and West-to-East since last Thursday. Train and bus companies are making a fortune in this situation, though as most infected passengers seek alternative ways to each their destinations. Most European International trains now run with an 80-90% load-factor, with some (like the Eurostar) being able to raise their prices due to never-seen before levels of demand.
Even if the concentration of the first wave of the ash is reducing, the volcano is still continuously errupting, sending more ash in the air… Some reports claim the last such operation of the same volcano in 1830 lasted for almost a year… We hope it will be over quicker this time. It has already brought some interesting stories, from Sebastien Vettel’s Red Bull Racing Formula-1 car waiting for some parts in China that arrived days late to the band Depeche Mode driving for 21 hours from London to Budapest to hold a concert on Friday night. The most talked about of all such events being influenced has been the funeral of Lech Kaczinsky, the Polish President who died in an air-crash just a week ago.
Interesting that a Moldavian family is the only people being stuck in the Budapest Airport Transit area for three days by now, as they have no visa to enter the European Union – thus can not leave the airport… Most probably similar issues are happening all major European Hubs with a lot more people…
Have you been affected by the ash? Let us know about your story in a comment!