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Iceland ash emissions at 'insignificant' level: expert

European air traffic close to normal Thursday: Eurocontrol
Brussels (AFP) April 21, 2010 - Air traffic in Europe disrupted by the volcano eruption in Iceland is expected to return almost to normal on Thursday, the body coordinating air traffic control across the continent said. "It is anticipated that almost 100 percent of the air traffic will take place in Europe tomorrow, Thursday 22 April," Eurocontrol said in a statement. It said it expected "approximately 22,500 flights to take place today in European airspace. On a normal Wednesday, we would expect 28,000. Thus over 80 percent of the total number of flights are expected to take place in Europe."

Eurocontrol said that all European airspace above 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) is available for use, while most was below, except for restrictions in limited areas, notably airports in Finland and parts of northern Scotland. Trans-Atlantic operations were back to normal, with 338 flights arriving in Europe, it said. Earlier, the organisation said that by the end of Wednesday it expected that a total of more than 100,000 flights would have been cancelled since April 15 when the cloud of volcanic ash first spread across northern Europe.

New volcanic alert hits Qantas flights
Sydney (AFP) April 22, 2010 - A fresh volcanic ash alert prompted Qantas to cancel one flight out of London and delay another for 11 hours, infuriating passengers after nearly a week of travel chaos. As carriers worldwide resumed European services, the Australian airline cancelled a flight to Melbourne via Hong Kong and delayed QF8232 to Singapore and Sydney after being warned of a plume of ash on its flight path. The Sydney flight finally took off at about midnight London time (2300 GMT), also carrying most of the Melbourne-bound passengers. "We received information from the European airspace authorities that there's a plume on the air flight path," a spokeswoman told AFP on Thursday. "That delay was made up of us assessing the situation and deciding if it was safe for us to fly.... Safety is our unwavering priority."

She said Qantas had a policy of not flying anywhere within 100 miles (160 kilometres) of clouds of volcanic ash, which can seize up jet engines by turning into molten glass. Passengers were reportedly furious at the extra disruption. "Every other airline that has flown out of Heathrow today has done so without any problem whatsoever," one traveller told Australia's AAP news agency. "Qantas has no balls and they need to get final approval from CASA (Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority) to fly out of European air space," he added.

Corporate affairs spokesman David Epstein said Qantas had a policy of consulting CASA no matter where it was flying in the world. "It's a safety-first policy... and we stand by it entirely," he said. "Other countries have different regulatory systems and the fact is that we haven't lost a plane in the jet age and other countries have." The airline said it was trying to put on extra flights to clear a backlog of 15,000 affected passengers, adding that most of those stranded in Singapore had already left.
by Staff Writers
Reykjavik (AFP) April 21, 2010
Only an "insignificant" amount of ash is erupting from Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano, one of the country's leading seismologists said Wednesday, as European skies finally began to clear, allowing air traffic to resume.

"Explosive activity has diminished. Ash production has gone down. It's really insignificant right now," Pall Einarsson, from Iceland's Institute of Earth Sciences, told journalists at the government's Civil Protection Agency.

Sigurdur Gislason, also from the Institute of Earth Sciences, said: "There is much, much less ash."

Einarsson stressed, however, that the volcano continues to erupt and is unpredictable. It has "not gone to sleep", he said.

The clearer skies were good news for passengers stranded in airports around the world after a week when ash from the volcano made European airspace too dangerous for jet planes to fly, bringing the continent's travel industry to a halt.

Gudrun Nina Petersen at the Icelandic Meterological Office said the ash plume from Eyjafjoell was "very low" and no longer spewing into altitudes used by aircraft.

"We don't expect any significant amount of ash above flight level," she said.

Surface winds, currently blowing the smoke towards the southeast and Europe, should change direction during the day to blow southwest into the Atlantic, said Ingveldur Thordardottir at the Civil Protection Agency.

However, scientists cautioned that the powerful, high-altitude jet stream continues to blow over Iceland into continental Europe, meaning that there is still the potential for carrying ash southeast.

Einarsson underlined that the volcano, while producing visibly less debris, is still very much alive.

"Seismic tremors are as high as ever," he said. "We don't see any sign of it ending and can't predict when it will end. Some people will give you an answer, but if they answer it, it is wrong."

Government scientists are trying to calm widespread fears that the far bigger neighboring volcano, called Katla, could go off next.

Historically there appears to be a relationship between the two volcanoes, although scientists say there is no direct link. Katla last erupted in 1918.

Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson caused a stir earlier this week when he said in a BBC interview that the current eruption was a "small rehearsal" for Katla.

Einarsson said the "fierce and rather dangerous" Katla was a worry, but that there was no sign of imminent danger.

"Eyjafjoell and Katla sometimes seem to act in tandem," he said. There's not any certainty in this, but that is what history tells us."

Geophysicist Sigrun Hreinsdottir, at the Earth Sciences Institute, said measuring instruments around Katla showed no sign of movement.

"Right now we don't see anything," she said. "We are monitoring it very carefully."

The lull in the crisis finally brought relief to the airline industry and huge numbers of travellers.

Three-quarters of flights scheduled in Europe were expected to be completed, said the body coordinating air traffic across the continent, and air traffic was expected to return almost to normal on Thursday.

The airline industry estimates its losses from being forced to ground aircraft at 1.7 billion dollars (1.3 billion euros).

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Iceland turns to jokes -- and soul-searching
Reykjavik (AFP) April 20, 2010
Economic implosion, then volcanic explosion: not since the Viking raiders has Iceland been associated with so much tumult in Europe. There are only 317,000 people on this barren north-Atlantic island and until recently, with the exception of eccentric pop singer Bjork, they'd barely caught the outside world's attention. But now Iceland is famous - infamous, even. The Eyjafjoell volc ... read more

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