Monday, November 29, 1999

Ash shuts major British, Dutch and Irish airports

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Britain and the Netherlands shut or planned to close major airports because of volcanic ash from Iceland on Monday, threatening large-scale air traffic disruption in Europe at the start of the working week.With Ireland's Dublin airport already shut, the new closures brought an echo of last month when ash from the same volcano prompted a number of European countries to close their airspaces for nearly a week and travel chaos ensued in Europe and beyond.Britain said it had closed London's Heathrow airport, Europe's busiest, and Gatwick airport to the south of the capital from 1 a.m. (0000 GMT) to 7 a.m. (0600 GMT). Other parts of British airspace were shut at the weekend.Airports in Amsterdam and Rotterdam would close for at least eight hours from 6 a.m. (0400 GMT) on Monday, Dutch state television reported.Other Dutch airports would not be affected, said the television, but as Amsterdam and Rotterdam were the country's two main airports the closures would effectively bring most air traffic in and out of the Netherlands to a standstill.Amsterdam Schiphol is Europe's third-largest cargo airport and fifth-largest passenger hub.In a statement on its website, Dutch airline KLM said: "We are currently working on a diversion plan for all affected flights to Amsterdam."More than 100,000 flights were cancelled across Europe last month because of the volcanic ash forming a cloud over the continent.Millions of people were stranded and airlines lost $1.7 billion, the International Air Transport Association has said.At the weekend, North Atlantic flights through Irish-controlled airspace were unaffected by the latest cloud of ash, with Shannon -- an important stopover for flights to and from the United States -- remaining open.But information notices at Schipol airport on Monday showed some flights from the United States had been cancelled.The volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland has been erupting with no sign of the explosive activity about to end and the ash plume has reached heights of 25,000 feet (7,620 metres), according to Britain's Meteorological Office."The ash cloud is expected to clear the UK during Tuesday as southwesterly winds become established during Monday," it said.(Editing by Ralph Gowling)

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