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Flights across much of Europe will be severely disrupted well into Saturday because of drifting ash ejected from a volcano in Iceland, BBC reports. Much of the airspace across northern and western Europe is closed, with fewer than half the usual number of flights expected to operate on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of passengers have been affected by the restrictions amid the worst travel chaos since 9/11. Scientists say the volcano is still erupting but producing less ash. More countries imposed either full or partial airspace closures on Friday, while some northern regions began to relax restrictions as the ash cloud slowly drifted south. e

The UK’s National Air Traffic Service (Nats) said trans-Atlantic flights would be able to operate to and from the re-opened airspace, but stressed this did not mean all such flights would resume. The disruption has affected hundreds of thousands of travellers since Wednesday when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano began erupting for the second time in a month, hurling a plume of ash 11km (seven miles) into the atmosphere. The cancellations also threaten to affect the funeral on Sunday of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed in a plane crash last Saturday, with the attendance of many world leaders now uncertain.

The European air traffic agency Eurocontrol said the ensuing chaos was worse on Friday than the previous day, and warned of “significant disruption” to air traffic on Saturday. With the volcanic ash able to bring down aircraft, some 60% of flights in Europe have been grounded, and more than half of trans-Atlantic flights cancelled, the European air traffic agency, Eurocontrol, said. At a news conference in Brussels on Friday afternoon, the agency warned travellers to expect significant disruption on Saturday, as the ash moves south and east. Europe’s busiest airports, including London’s Heathrow, Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle in Paris, are among dozens affected, with a succession of countries announcing further planned shutdowns. Here is a video from volcanic Iceland.

COUNTRIES AFFECTED
Airspace closed:
Belgium
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
Hungary (from 1700 GMT)
Latvia
Lithuania
Netherlands
Slovakia
Switzerland (from 2200 GMT)
Partial closures:
Austria (closures from 1600 GMT)
France (northern airspace)
Germany (most airports closed)
Italy (Rome’s Fiumicino airport affected; Alitalia cancels raft of flights)
Norway (limited flights in north)
Poland (all but Rzeszow airport closed)
Republic of Ireland (most airspace opened Friday)
Sweden (northern airspace opened Friday)
UK (near-total closure)

“I would think Europe was probably experiencing its greatest disruption to air travel since 9/11,” a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, Britain’s aviation regulator, said. “In terms of closure of airspace, this is worse than after 9/11. The disruption is probably larger than anything we’ve probably seen.” Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York, U.S. airspace was closed for three days and European airlines were forced to halt all transatlantic services. Disruption from the volcanic ash eruption in Iceland is costing airlines more than $200 million a day, the air industry body IATA said – Reuters reports.

Air chaos affected South Caucasus region as well. “A1+” reports about some couple of flights being delayed. “Turkey suffers travel chaos in the face of giant ash cloud” – Hurriyet reports on situation in Turkey. Read also BusinessWeek review on Europe’s Flight Chaos and Telegraph article on it as well.

Photo by The New York Times Flight disruption in pictures also in BBC here.