A volcanic ash cloud over the North Atlantic drifted across the Iberian peninsula today, shutting airports in Spain and Portugal and forcing carriers including Ryanair Holdings Plc and EasyJet Plc to ground flights.
Faro in southern Portugal is closed until at least 3 p.m., according to Ryanair, which halted 14 services to the Algarve tourist hub after scrapping more than 90 flights across Europe yesterday. Spanish airports including Seville are also shut and EasyJet said travel to France and Gibraltar is disrupted.
Unsafe ash levels extend from the Canary Islands across Spain and Portugal as far as the Pyrenees, according to flight- path coordinator Eurocontrol. EasyJet said today that costs from the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano on April 14 already amount to as much as 75 million pounds ($111 million).
“The northerly winds are here for a while yet,” U.K. Met Office spokesman Dave Britton said in a phone interview. “If any ash is produced from the volcano, then it will move south.”
Volcanic dust is a threat to planes because the abrasive, silica-based material may clog engines and scar windscreens. Speed sensors, critical in flight, can also be disabled.
European flights were reduced to 27,400 yesterday, down about 5.5 percent from a typical Monday in May, Eurocontrol said on its Twitter page. While the 29,000 services due to operate today are close to the daily norm, airport closures will affect areas as far south as Madeira, Morocco and Tenerife, with the cloud likely to drift northeast as far as France, it said.
A shutdown of European airspace last month grounded 100,000 flights and cost carriers $1.7 billion in lost sales, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Aer Lingus Group Plc, which canceled flights yesterday, said today that the closures are excessive and called on the European Union to replace predictions based on Volcanic Ash Advisory Center models with real-time sampling by aircraft.
“The VAAC model has been proven inaccurate several times and we have lost confidence in its reliability,” Aer Lingus Chief Executive Officer Christoph Mueller said in a statement. “We propose that specialised aircraft equipped with appropriate measurement devices be deployed around the Atlantic rim in order to respond swiftly and decisively to any approaching ash cloud.”
The Irish Aviation Authority said in a statement that the ash “will continue to cause difficulty for some trans-Atlantic operations and operations into some areas of southern Europe.”
Eurocontrol said work by the U.K. Met Office and Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed the effectiveness of the models used in locating areas of ash above engine-tolerance levels. For that reason, a 60-mile (97-kilometer) buffer area added to no- fly zones will be removed, easing restrictions, it said.
Eight Spanish airports are closed today, grounding 282 flights, national air traffic controller Aena said on its website. Terminals in Seville, Jerez and Badajoz in the south of the country are shut, together with five landing strips in the Canary Islands. Madrid-based Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA was among carriers that canceled flights yesterday.
“We are in constant discussions with authorities and airports,” Pauline McAlester, a spokeswoman for Dublin-based Ryanair, Europe’s biggest discount carrier, said by telephone. “Our goal is to minimize the disruption for passengers and flight schedules as much as possible.”
West of Ireland
Eurocontrol’s latest map shows unsafe ash concentrations stretching thousands of miles from Greenland south toward the British Isles. The bulk of the cloud lies west of Ireland, with a branch at the southern end extending northeast over Iberia.
The chart is based on data from the London VAAC, which is located at the U.K. Met Office and covers the North Atlantic, and the Toulouse, France, VAAC, which is responsible for the whole of continental Europe, Africa and western Asia.
EasyJet’s net loss narrowed to 58.9 million pounds in the six months through March 31 from 85.9 million pounds a year earlier as lower fuel costs helped offset the impact of the ash cloud and disruption from heavy snow. Sales rose 13 percent to 1.17 billion pounds, the Luton, England-based company said.
EasyJet traded down 17 pence, or 3.8 percent, at 425.2 pence as of 10:51 a.m. in London. Iberia declined 1.8 percent to 2.22 euros in Madrid, while Aer Lingus fell 3.6 percent to 68 cents and Ryanair was 3 percent lower at 3.38 euros in Dublin.