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Erupting volcano cancels European flights

A volcano erupting in Iceland has disrupted European flights, including in and out of Switzerland, after authorities closed airspace over the north of the continent.

This content was published on April 15, 2010 - 21:58

By early evening on Thursday, 80 takeoffs and landings from Zurich had been cancelled. In Geneva, about 100 flights had been affected. Basel’s Euroairport was also hit.

In the same period the airline Swiss had had to cancel 70 European flights, its spokesman said. However, none of its planes was stuck outside Switzerland, he added.

Flights cancelled involve Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. One by one these countries have closed all or part of their air space since the Eyjafjallajokull volcano started spewing ash high into the atmosphere on Wednesday.

As a precaution, Swiss also cancelled Thursday evening flights to Berlin. Some transatlantic flights are delayed.

Hundreds of thousands of passengers are stranded all over Europe. It is not clear when flights will be able to restart.

A volcano's smoke and ash poses a threat to aircraft because particles as hard as a knife blade ranging in size from 0.001 millimetres to 2 millimetres can get sucked into a plane’s engine, melt in the heat, and then solidify again, causing the engine to shut down.

That happened to a KLM flight near Alaska in 1989, when a 747 lost all power and dropped from 7,500m to 3,600m before pilots could restart the engines and land the plane.

The debris can also hinder visibility. In the 1980s a British Airways 747 flew into a volcanic ash cloud and the grit sandblasted the windscreen so thoroughly that the pilot had to stand and look out a side window to land safely.

The Swiss meteorological office says the cloud of ash drifting south-eastwards from Iceland will not pass over Switzerland.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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