Eruption ends with a whimper as flights take to skies

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AIR travel in Scotland has returned to a near-normal service as the Icelandic volcano which caused widespread flight chaos earlier this week stopped spewing out ash.

The Grmsvtn volcano, which generated a more powerful eruption than that of Eyjafjallajokull a year ago, finally stopped producing an ash plume in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Last night, it was pumping out only a small amount of steam, meteorologists said.

But the fallout from the volcano continued to blight European flights as the ash cloud made its way across the continent - and experts warned that further seismic activity could cause more ash eruptions later in the week.

Six flights at Edinburgh Airport were cancelled because planes were out of position and Glasgow Airport saw some delays yesterday as airport staff battled to return schedules to normal.

In Germany, about 450 flights were affected by the ash yesterday, while three German airports - Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin - were closed for several hours.

However, the cloud blew further north and east yesterday afternoon, allowing German air space to reopen.

Eurocontrol, which handles air traffic over Europe, said it did not expect any further disruption today.

"The worst is over," said Icelandic Prime Minister Jhanna Sigurardttir. "Now the clean-up can begin. Our geoscientists say that the eruption is waning day by day and that the problems arising in our neighbouring countries as a result of volcanic ash should be resolved quickly."

Iceland's main airport opened yesterday morning for the first time since Saturday.

"There are indications that it's ceasing," added Hrafn Gudmundsson, a meteorologist at the Icelandic Met office.

But the British Geological Survey yesterday warned that the volcano is still active with "on-going low-level seismic activity" reported, even though this has decreased.

"The movement of the ash cloud will depend on whether we see any further volcanic eruptions and how weather patterns develop," said a spokesman for the Met Office.

"There is a chance of some fairly dense ash at between 35,000ft and 50,000ft over the UK around midday on Friday. This ash is from the original eruption which pushed a lot of ash high into the atmosphere."

The typical cruising height of airliners is anything between about 25,000ft and 40,000ft - and the expectation is that aircraft flying in and out of the UK will be able to travel under this cloud.

However, University of Iceland geophysicist Pall Einarsson claimed it was unlikely that the volcano would begin to disgorge significant amounts of ash again.

"At this stage we can at least hope for the worst to be over in terms of ash production," he said.

"At the moment there is practically no ash being produced and what little there is, is being deposited on the glacier that is immediately around the crater."

Scottish transport minister Keith Brown held another emergency meeting of the Scottish Government Resilience Room yesterday.

He said: "The Met Office forecasts show the threat of highdensity volcanic ash no longer looks to impact on Scottish and UK airspace.

"I am delighted that air services have been getting back to normal, allowing business to continue and passengers to continue their travel plans."

The main international body representing airlines - the International Air Transport Association - complained to the UK government on Tuesday about the way it had handled the issue, saying it should have had Cessna planes ready to carry out tests, instead of relying on the Met Office to provide updates.


Budget carrier Ryanair yesterday again questioned the necessity of designating "red zones" of high-level ash over Scotland this week.

The Irish airline claimed that its own test flight on Tuesday had found no ash in the atmosphere above Scotland.

But UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond insisted that aviation authorities would "not be bullied" by Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary into departing from a policy of prioritising passenger and aircraft safety.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said that Ryanair's flight could not be counted as a test flight as it flew above the ash cloud and did not have any special testing equipment on board.

However, British Airways said its own authorised test flight passing through areas where ash was present was unaffected.