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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Uncertainty still plagues air traffic

The unpredictable clouds of ash drifting south from Iceland’s volcano can change course quickly and will likely disrupt air travel for the next several days, weeks or even months. Six airports were forced to close Thursday morning but later reopened. North Sea helicopter transport was suspended.

Civil aviation agency Avinor announced that it had to close air space between Sola, just south of Stavanger, and Florø, after the cloud that “definitely” constitutes a no-fly zone “has drifted in over us.”

That shut down airports serving Stavanger, Haugesund, Bergen, Stord, Florø and Førde. The situation is changing constantly and the best advice officials had for travelers was for them to stay in touch with their airlines to see whether their flights were cancelled.

By mid-morning, airports were closed from Stavanger to Ålesund. Most later re-opened, but airlines adopted different policies. Commuter airline Widerøe said its Dash 8 aircraft couldn’t fly in “polluted” air, so it suspended traffic, as did SAS. Norwegian Air, however, kept flying to and the from the West Coast, but with greatly reduced capacity.

All helicopter traffic to offshore oil platforms in the North Sea was suspended as well.

Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen remained open but several other airports in Sweden and Finland shut down again.

The closures caught even Avinor, and not least the airlines, by surprise because meteorologists and volcano experts on Iceland had thought the worst of the eruptions was over and that ash was moving due south from Iceland and not southeast towards Scandinavia and Europe. Officials had reported that air travel would be back to normal by Thursday. They were wrong.

“The ash cloud is lying like a belt just off our coast,” Alf Sognefest of Bergen’s airport at Flesland told NRK. “I guess we’re just being punished because we live where we live.”

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