UK, Germany eye possible ash travel disruptions

Sunday, May 16, 2010

LONDON -- Volcanic ash from Iceland could disrupt air travel in both Britain and Germany in the next few days, officials said Saturday.

The British Department of Transport said there was a risk that parts of British airspace could be closed beginning Sunday and those problems could continue through Tuesday. The predictions are based on the continuing eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano and current wind and weather conditions.

Different parts of British airspace -- including the southeast, home to busy airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted -- could close at different times through the next few days, the department's statement said.

German air traffic control spokesman Axel Raab said German air travel could see possible disruptions starting Monday. He cautioned, however, that indicators were still "very, very vague."

Any decision on air space closures will be made after examining Sunday's weather forecasts and a crisis meeting with meteorologists, said Raab.

Germany plans to send up a test flight today to measure the ash concentration, German Aerospace Center spokesman Andreas Schuetz added.

Stefanie Stotz, a spokeswoman for Lufthansa, Germany's biggest airline, welcomed the test flight and stressed that the situation so far didn't seem dramatic.

The Met Office, Britain's weather forecaster, said Saturday the wind is expected to change direction Tuesday, which would lower the risks of travel disruptions.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said five-day forecasts are now being published to give airlines and travelers "the best possible information. However, he said the situation "remains fluid and these forecasts are always liable to change."

In Iceland, civil protection official Agust Gunnar Gylfason said the Eyjafjallajokul eruption hadn't intensified, but that wind conditions near the volcano had changed.

"The winds in the vicinity of the volcano are not quite as forceful as they have been so the ash plume is higher closer to the volcano," he said. "The weather patterns are the predominant factor in deciding where the ash goes. The intensity of the eruption has been fairly similar" (to previous days).

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