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Report vindicates aviation authorities over ash cloud flight cancellations

The ash cloud from Iceland’s (still unpronounceable) Eyjafjallajökull volcano could have caused engines to fail and seriously scratched up windows.

A plume of ash rises from the volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier on 19 April, 2010.
A plume of ash rises from the volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier on 19 April, 2010.
Image: Brynjar Gauti/AP/Press Association Images

A NEW INDEPENDENT REPORT studying the effects of volcanic ash from last year’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland has said that aviation authorities were right to suspend and cancel flights for fear the ash would damage aircraft.

Cancelling around 100,000 European flights is believed to have cost airlines over €1.4bn and affected about 10 million air passengers.

The eruptions began on 14 April 2010 and forced most countries in northern Europe to close their airspace in the following days.

The study (subscription required), which was conducted by the University of Copenhagen and the University of Iceland, used a “unique set of dry ash samples” collected immediately after the eruption. The researchers found that:

The particles of explosive ash that reached Europe in the jet stream were especially sharp and abrasive over their entire size range, from submillimeter to tens of nanometres. Edges remained sharp even after a couple of weeks of abrasion in stirred water suspensions.

The tiny, sharp particles could have caused jet engines to fail and scratched windows to the extent that it would have been impossible to see out of them.

Flight cancellations had been criticised by airline chiefs such as BA’s Willie Walsh and the International Air Transport Association. However, report co-author Susan Stipp of the University of Copenhagen said: “We showed that the airport closures were justified”.

The footage in this video was allegedly taken of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption on the 17 April 2010 and the first part appears to show billowing clouds of dark ash being forced into the air by the volcano:

Video posted online by klaengur1

- Additional reporting by the AP

Read the report in full in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (subscription required) >

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