Iceland’s volcano fury disrupts the travel of Saudi passengers
Prince Sultan to provide hotel accommodation for all Saudi nationals unable to leave Britain.
April 16, 2010 9:07 by Katherine Azmeh
Ash clouds from a volcanic eruption in Iceland has severely disrupted the travel plans of hundreds of passengers flying from Saudi Arabia to various European destinations on Thursday.
Huge clouds of ash and smoke from the volcano moved south, emptying the skies of aircraft across much of northern Europe and grounding planes on a scale unseen since the 9/11 terror attacks.
All flights in and out of the UK and several other European countries were suspended from Thursday midday. London’s Heathrow airport was closed from noon on Thursday until Friday. As a result all incoming flights were diverted and outgoing flights canceled.
Meanwhile, Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, has issued directives to provide hotel accommodation for all Saudi passengers, who were unable to leave Britain. “Prince Sultan has issued orders to provide urgent accommodation to all stranded Saudis in London hotels at his own expense,” said Prince Muhammad bin Nawaf, ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom.
In a statement to the SPA, Prince Muhammad said that the crown prince’s directives would cover transit passengers. “Prince Sultan will bear the accommodation cost for Saudi families unable to return to their places of residence from London,” the ambassador said.
The family of a Saudi passenger who traveled by Saudi Arabian Airlines to London said they were worried about him.
“Saudia SV105 from Jeddah to London via Frankfurt left at 12.10 p.m., but we don’t know whether the flight landed there,” said Abdul Aziz Al-Ghamdi, a relative of the passenger. “Even if the flight is diverted, we wonder where it might have landed as all European airports are closed for the day.”
BMI’s country manager for Saudi Arabia Robert Lickley told Arab News that the airline’s flight to Riyadh and onward to Jeddah on Thursday night was running on time.
“But we have canceled our departures scheduled for Thursday night as Heathrow airport is closed,” he said. “Our teams have contacted the passengers booked for our Thursday flight and given them the option of flying on Friday, subject to the opening of London Heathrow airport.”
Airports in the UK and other parts of the continent closed at different times during the day for safety reasons. It was not clear when they will open again. Authorities have been reviewing the position of the cloud periodically.
“Safety is the main consideration for canceling the fights,” Lickley said, adding that passengers have shown understanding.
Up to 4,000 flights were being canceled with airspace closed in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark among others. The UK’s air traffic control service said no flights would be allowed into UK airspace until at least Friday amid fears of engine damage.
Safety group Eurocontrol said the problem could persist for 48 hours. Aviation officials said it was not clear when it would be safe enough to fly again and said it was the first time in living memory that an ash cloud had brought one of the world’s most congested airspaces to a standstill.
In Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration said it was working with airlines to try to reroute some flights around the huge ash cloud, which is hundreds of miles wide. Flights from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America to Heathrow and other top European hubs were also put on hold.
A scientist in Iceland said the erupting volcano could eject tons of ash into the air for days or even weeks, while meteorologists from the AccuWeather forecasting service in Pennsylvania said the current ash plume will threaten Europe through Sunday at the least.