A Break in the Ash Clouds?

Authorities in Britain are hopeful about an apparent break in the volcanic eruption in Iceland that has paralyzed air traffic across the Atlantic and within Europe. Earlier today (noon Greenwich Mean Time) Britain's Meteorological Office published a graphic saying the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano had "virtually ceased," with only small amounts of volcanic ash being reported at altitudes of up to 6,000 feet.

No significant ash is being reported above 35,000 feet, according to the Meteorological Office. Nevertheless, the Office warns, "For the time being, weather patterns continue to blow volcanic ash towards the U.K.," and the chart shows clouds of ash from 20,000 to 35,000 feet, cruising altitude for most passenger and other commercial air traffic.

"The volcanic eruption has reduced and the volcano is not currently emitting ash to altitudes that will affect the U.K.," according to Britain's air-traffic-control service, NATS. Assuming that the volcano does not resume spewing ash at the rates seen over the past few days, British authorities are looking forward to a "continuously improving situation," NATS says. Nevertheless, the service advises that the ground stop currently affecting all flight traffic in and around Britain will remain in place until 7 a.m. local time on Tuesday. "This is a dynamic and changing situation and is therefore difficult to forecast beyond 0700 local," NATS says. "However, the latest Met Office advice is that the contaminated area will continue to move south with the possibility that restrictions to airspace above England and Wales, including the London area, may be lifted later tomorrow [Tuesday]."

The Civil Aviation Authority, Britain's air-safety regulator, also sounded a note of caution: "There is hope that a cessation of volcanic activity will allow the resumption of flights," the authority said in a statement. "But Eyjafjallajokull continues its eruptions, although at a lower level. Weather conditions also continue to be unfavorable."

Officials at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration could not be reached for immediate comment. Still, with tens of thousands of passengers stranded and airlines complaining of massive financial losses, there is huge pressure to let flights resume to and from Europe as soon as possible.

A Break in the Ash Clouds? | World