Iceland Puts Airlines on High Alert after Volcanic Eruption

By Kari Lundgren and Jonas Bergman | August 29, 2014

Iceland put airlines on the highest level of alert after authorities detected an eruption north of the Bardarbunga volcano.

The Icelandic Met Office raised the alert over the site to red and flights have been banned below 5,000 feet, air traffic controller Isavia said today in a statement. No significant ash has been detected and the eruption appears too effusive, a term used to describe a non-explosive outpouring of magma, it said.

Airlines including Deutsche Lufthansa AG, British Airways and discount specialist EasyJet Plc said they’re continuing to operate timetables as normal while monitoring the situation. Iceland’s airports are all still open, according to Isavia.

“Seismic eruption tremor is low, indicating effusive eruption without significant explosive activity,” it said.

The eruption started from a fissure 300 meters (984 feet) long in the northern part of the Holuhraun lava flow, between the Dyngjujokull glacier and the Askja caldera, according to the Civil Protection Agency.

Iceland has been on alert since Bardarbunga, one of its largest volcanoes, began rumbling two weeks ago. Bardarbunga, which lies under Vatnajokull, Europe’s biggest ice cap, has been rocked by earthquakes that led to evacuations and road closures.

Engine Damage
Airlines are on alert amid concern they may face a repeat of 2010’s disruption, when a volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull ice cap spewed a column of ash 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) into the air. The eruption shut airspace across Europe for six days, forcing carriers to cancel more than 100,000 flights. Ash is a danger because the glass-like particles can damage jet engines.

Still, the magma beneath Vatnajokull has migrated north in a dike that extends beyond the borders of the glacier, so that an eruption “would most likely produce an effusive lava eruption with limited explosive, ash-producing activity,” the Met Office said earlier. Volcanologists have said that water and steam from ice helped make the 2010 event so explosive, ejecting ash to cruising levels used by trans-Atlantic flights.

“We are keeping the situation in Iceland under close observation,” British Airways, the U.K. unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, Europe’s No. 3 carrier, said today. “At present all of our flights are operating normally.”

Lufthansa. the European No. 2, is monitoring the eruption and the advice of aviation authorities and sees no need to change its schedule right now, spokesman Thomas Jachnow said.

The carrier’s discount unit Germanwings, which has canceled 70 percent of flights, said Reykjavik is among destinations that it’s continuing to serve.

“We are monitoring the situation, liaising with our partners and the authorities,” Paul Moore, a spokesman for EasyJet, said today. Europe’s second-biggest discount carrier has been developing technology that can help detect ash in front of a plane, and that may be tested further if there’s a major eruption, the Luton, England-based company has said.

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