European no-fly zone shrinks, but remains subject to change


London/Reykjavik/Copenhagen : The no-fly zone over Europe caused by a cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano was ratcheted back Tuesday, with flights able to operate over a swathe of southern Europe, the continent’s air-traffic control agency, Eurocontrol said.

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Several countries reopened sections of their airspace, while others held off, pending the movement of a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland.

New rules adopted by European Union transport ministers define three risk zones according to the concentration of ash that poses a threat to aircraft, especially the engines. Flying is still banned in the high-risk zone, but individual countries can decide whether to allow flights in the medium-risk zone. The low-risk zone is open.

British Airways said it will not operate short-haul flights Tuesday as Britain prepares for another blast of volcanic ash from an Icelandic volcano, the airline said.

The carrier is still planning to begin operating long-haul flights this afternoon, but said those plans could change at short notice.

A handful of domestic flights took off from Glasgow and Edinburgh airport in Scotland, while Newcastle airport in north-east England said it planned to resume operations later.

Airports in Switzerland, Italy and parts of France have resumed operations, and airspace partially opened in Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland.

German aviation authorities continued to order the airspace shut down until at least 2 p.m. (1200 GMT), but flights were being allowed under certain conditions.

Airports in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin saw their first planes roll up and down the runways Tuesday morning, a day after EU transport ministers agreed to a relaxation of the flying bans. They were the first flights since German airspace was closed last week.

In the Nordic region, airports in Denmark, southern Sweden and southern Norway were closed. The main Swedish airport, Stockholm’s Arland airport, was expected to handle only 5 percent of its regular traffic Tuesday, a spokesman said.

There have been conflicting reports about the levels of volcanic ash that have disrupted flights across European airspace since Thursday. While Icelandic authorities reported a lessening of ash being spewed out from the volcano under the Ejyafjallajoekull glacier, British authorities say they expect ash levels above British airspace to worsen Tuesday.

The volcano under the Ejyafjallajoekull glacier continued to be active, but it was now belching more lava rather than steam and ash, the Icelandic Met Office in Reykjavik said.

The cloud of smoke it was producing was also not as tall. From Wednesday when it began erupting until Sunday, the column of ash and smoke had reached as high as 11 km and spread itself across Europe, prompting aviation authorities to close airspace and cancel flights, stranding millions of travellers around the world.