Uncertainty reigns as ash rains down

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UPDATED: Civil aviation officials remained highly uncertain on Monday whether the weekend’s new volcanic eruptions in Iceland would seriously disrupt airline traffic in Norway and elsewhere in Europe. Flights to and from Svalbard faced delays Monday afternoon and air ambulance service was halted, while more volcanic ash was expected to reach Norwegian air space on Tuesday.

Westerly winds were likely to send ash towards Scandinavia, but officials at civil aviation authority Avinor couldn’t say whether it would cause problems for airline traffic and thus force closure of air space over Norway. Air ambulance service between the mainland and Svalbard was stopped Monday afternoon, because the aircraft involved had to fly too far east to get around the ash clouds.

Other flights remained in service, but were taking longer to reach their destinations. All airline passengers, both in northern and southern Norway, were being told to head for the airport as usual and then deal with their airlines directly if flights need to be cancelled or rerouted on Tuesday or later in the week.

Different sort of ash
The ash itself, which continued to rain down on Iceland, is different from the ash that caused massive disruption last spring, when the erupting Eyjafjallajökull volcano spewed massive clouds of ash that posed a hazard to aircraft. The ash from Iceland’s Grimsvötn volcano, which started erupting again on Saturday, is coarser and thus heavier, meaning it will more easily fall back down to earth instead of remaining in the air.

The strength of the weekend eruptions, though, “came as a surprise to all of us,” Adalbjørn Sigurdsson of Iceland Radio told newspaper Aftenposten. The winds were sending the ash in unpredictable directions.

Ash arrived late Monday over Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, where aviation authorities were monitoring it closely. They were optimistic, though, that commercial flights could avoid ash by setting an easterly course, also avoiding the need for cancellations.

Stranded in Reykjavik
Flights to and from Iceland, though remained cancelled for the second day, stranding hundreds of Norwegians and others in Reykjavik. An Oslo school class that was supposed to fly to Reykjavik for special sporting events this week also faced seeing their long-awaited trip literally go up in smoke.

“We still think there’s a possibility the ash could reach western Norway on Tuesday,” Jens Petter Duestad of Avinor told Norwegian media on Monday. No airline cancellations were expected on Monday, but they couldn’t be ruled out later in the week.

“The situation on Iceland has no immediate consequences for us until tomorrow (Tuesday),” said Jo Kobro, information chief at Norway’s gateway airport, Oslo Lufthavn Gardermoen (OSL).

Trans-Atlantic flights like those running to and from New York steered a new course to avoid air space over and around Iceland.

Ash over the North Sea and west coast could also disrupt helicopter service to and from Norwegian oil rigs. A control center for civilian and military flights in Bodø was also monitoring the ash movement, along with the volcanic center VAAC in London.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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