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Volcano ash causes biggest flight chaos since 9/11

UK, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Belgium have closed their air space. France shut down 24 airports, and Germany's Berlin and Hamburg were shut.

  • Passengers wait after the cancellation of flights at Zaventem Airport outside Brussels Image Credit: AP
  • A picture taken released by Meteosat shows a dark cloud of volcanic ash spreading over Iceland. A volcanic eruImage Credit: AP

London: An enormous ash cloud from a remote Icelandic volcano Friday caused the biggest flight disruption since the 2001 terrorist attacks as it drifted over northern Europe and stranded travellers on six continents. Officials said it could take days for the skies to become safe again in one of aviation's most congested areas.

List of UAE flights affected today

The cloud, floating kilometres above Earth and capable of knocking out jet engines, wrecked travel plans for tens of thousands of people Thursday, from tourists and business travellers to politicians and royals. They couldn’t see the source of their frustration - except indirectly, when the ash created vivid red and lavender sunsets.

Most non-emergency flights in Britain were cancelled, and most will stay grounded until at least Friday late afternoon.

In pictures: Volcano erupts in Iceland

Authorities in Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Belgium also closed their air space. France shut down 24 airports, including the main hub of Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Germany’s Berlin and Hamburg were shut Thursday evening, and several flights out of the US had to double back. Austrian airport authorities also said they are closing airspace Friday

Kyla Evans, spokeswoman for air traffic service Eurocontrol, said half of all trans-Atlantic flights were expected to be cancelled Friday.

At London’s Heathrow airport, normally one of the world’s busiest with more than 1,200 flights and 180,000 travellers a day, passengers stared forlornly at departure boards on which every flight was listed as cancelled.

Eurocontrol spokeswoman Evans said the ash had led to the cancellation of about 4,000 flights within Europe Thursday, and that could rise to 6,000 Friday.

Several US flights bound for Heathrow, including those from Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Las Vegas and New York, had to return to their departure cities or land elsewhere when London airports were closed. Canadian airlines also cancelled some Europe-bound flights.

In Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration said it was working with airlines to try to reroute some flights around the huge ash cloud, which is hundreds of miles wide. Flights from Asia, Africa, South America, Australia and the Middle East to Heathrow and other top European hubs were also put on hold.

Australia's Qantas airline said it had some 1,700 passengers grounded Friday from five flights - about 1,000 passengers stranded in Singapore, and 350 each in Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Singapore Airlines cancelled seven flights to Europe.

New Zealand’s national carrier Air New Zealand warned travellers flying to Europe to defer their plans Friday, as it cancelled two flights through London and diverted a third to Germany.

Fifteen flights between Hong Kong and Europe were cancelled on Friday and seven were delayed, the southern Chinese territory's Airport Authority said. Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific and British Airways cancelled their flights.

Malaysia Airlines said that its flights from Kuala Lumpur to Paris, London and Amsterdam on Thursday and Friday were all postponed to Saturday and Sunday respectively, leaving hundreds stranded. A Kuala Lumpur-London flight that took off Thursday was diverted to Frankfurt.

Japan Airlines said it cancelled nine flights to Europe on Friday with 2,300 passengers. All Nippon Airways Co. said six flights were cancelled, affecting 1,582 passengers. In Seoul, 12 flights were cancelled, and two flights en route to Europe were forced to turn around.