Flights running, disruption continues

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Norway’s airports were expected to remain open past midnight on Wednesday, but many flights were cancelled and travel opportunities uncertain. Thousands of Norwegians are also still stranded around the world, and getting little help.

An SAS Scandinavian airlines Airbus 330 en route from the U.S., lands in Arlanda Airport outside Stockholm

Civil aviation authority Avinor reported Wednesday morning that air space and airports would remain open at least until 2pm and likely until 2am Thursday morning. The volcano in Iceland that’s caused unprecedented air traffic chaos for the past week seemed to calm down, and wasn’t spewing as much dangerous vapor, ash and debris that can damage aircraft.

Officials had predicted that air travel would go as near normal as possible on Tuesday, but airports in southern Norway kept opening and closing in line with the whims of the volcanic cloud.  Most agree that it’s impossible to make any firm predictions regarding flight activity, and passengers once again were told to simply stay in touch with their airlines.

Jo Kobro, spokesman for Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, warned of ongoing cancellations because the airlines are scrambling to get their aircraft and crews in place. There were also many flight cancellations in Bergen, because the airlines lacked aircraft and crews. On the bright side, however, Copenhagen’s airport was due to re-open by midday, and that should ease international connections.

State not running to the rescue
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg would make no promises that Norway’s airlines, which collectively estimate they’re losing NOK 100 million a day, will get any state aid. The local hotel industry is also suffering heavy losses, and has warned of layoffs.

The government helped ward off trouble for the banking industry when the finance crisis hit last year, but Stoltenberg said the travel industry is subject to natural catastrophes. The airlines have asked for elimination of the landing fees, passenger fees and other taxes they must pay to the state.

Stoltenberg’s cabinet industry for business and trade, Trond Giske, said there may be some relief offered but he wouldn’t promise anything either. “That would be up to the transport ministry and the finance ministry to decide,” Giske told newspaper Aftenposten.

Still stuck in far-off places
The foreign ministry, meanwhile, has been deluged with calls for help from Norwegians still stranded around the world. A new operations center aimed at helping Norwegians abroad has had what one staffer jokingly called “a flying start,” as ministry personnel try to give advice to Norwegians stuck in far-flung places from Vietnam to Shanghai and various African countries.

Many complain they’re not able to make contact with their airlines, and their expenses are mounting as they wait for flights home. While thousands stuck around Europe have managed to get train or bus tickets, or spent huge amounts on rental cars, it’s not so easy for those sitting involuntarily on other continents.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that the president of Norway’s Parliament, Dag Terje Andersen, was “sitting in Santiago” along with seven Members of Parliament. They’d all been on an 11-day tour of South America, visiting politicians, ministers and companies in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. They were supposed to fly home this evening but their flight was cancelled.

Several other members of the Paliament’s foreign relations committee were stuck in Dubai earlier this week, after a trip to Afghanistan, also waiting for flights back to Europe.

The editorial page editor of newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) remained stranded in Shanghai and wrote that she even explored the possibility of traveling to Beijing and returning to Oslo via Moscow on the trans-Siberian railroad. The costs and time involved made waiting in Shanghai more attractive.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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