Air space open, but with restrictions

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UPDATED: Another round of airline disruption was descending on Norway and much of Europe after all on Tuesday, as unpredictable and unusually strong winds spread volcanic ash from Iceland. The ash was moving over both the southerly and most northerly parts of Norway.

That forced suspension of fights to and from Svalbard, while Stavanger’s airport at Sola initially closed and then re-opened for flights with restrictions. Flights to and from Aberdeen, a busy oil industry base like Stavanger, were cancelled.

Following prognoses closely
“The outlook tells us that the ash clouds will have strong influence during the morning,” Leif Anker Lorentzen, head of Stavanger Lufthavn Sola, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) early on Tuesday. At 8am, he said flights were halted because ash concentrations were too high.

Air space was not officially closed, however, and airlines could apply to civil aviation authority Avinor for permission to fly. This caused delays, however, and confusion among the public. NRK reported that Norwegian airlines did not have the necessary approval to fly when ash concentration is at a so-called “middle level,” which was the situation Tuesday morning, so they were reportedly scrambling to get Avinor’s permission.

Traffic early in the day, before ash concentration built up, had been operating “almost as usual,” Lorentzen said, with only the flights to Aberdeen cancelled. “We just have to see how the situation develops during the day,” Lorentzen said at the time, but he conceded the outlook wasn’t good. “We don’t know exactly what will happen but we’re following the prognoses closely.”

The restrictions were to last until noon, at which time aviation officials would make a new evaluation. Helicopter transport to and from North Sea oil rigs was also disrupted.

More closures possible
The groundings at Stavanger would affect domestic flight schedules elsewhere in Norway, and other airports may close as well, as ash concentrations were due to be high over Kristiansand, for example, by mid-afternoon.

Jo Kobro, information chief at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, said traffic was relatively normal except for routes to and from Stavanger and Haugesund, just north of Stavanger on Norway’s west coast. Traffic in all of southern Norway was likely, though, to be disrupted during the day.

By mid-morning, reports were also coming in that Denmark had closed parts of its air space, which led to cancellations and delays at the airport in Copenhagen. It serves as a major hub for Scandinavian Airines (SAS), so that was also likely to affect traffic to and from Norway.

Aviation officials and the airlines have been in a high state of alert, monitoring the ash clouds from Iceland’s Grimsvötn volcano closely and hoping they could keep air traffic on schedule. Hopes dimmed during the night, even though flights were allowed to resume to and from Iceland itself.

It was up to the airlines whether they wanted to fly in and out of Reykjavik. SAS was planning to resume its flight from Oslo to Reykjavik Tuesday morning, and Iceland Air was resuming operations as well.

‘Danger zones’
Fights to and from Svalbard were halted, though, after a temporary “danger zone” settled over the area because of ash clouds. As the ash spread in both northerly and southerly directions, the same danger zones settled over Scotland, forcing flight cancellations at Glasgow, Edinburgh and south to Newcastle in England, in addition to Aberdeen.

That in turn may affect traffic elsewhere since major airlines KLM and British Airways were affected and that could cause delays or service disruptions on other routes because of stranded aircraft.

Uncertainty remained high and airline passengers were advised to show up for flights as scheduled and stay in touch with their airlines. The fickle nature of the ash clouds can cause sudden changes, but airline industry officials were trying to avoid the chaos that ensued during volcanic eruptions last year.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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