India-Europe flights unaffected as of now

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New Delhi/Mumbai, May 25 : Indian air carriers Wednesday reported no cancellation of flights to Europe where volcanic ash from Iceland has grounded about 500 flights in Britain alone and covered some parts of the continent's air space.

"Our operations till midnight are on schedule. Any alterations due to the ash cover would be informed to the passengers," a senior Air India official with the operations arm of the airline told IANS.

According to the official, the ash cover was unlikely to affect the airlines' operations, as longer and safe routes were available.

"There is no such scenario of flight cancellations as operations are unlikely to be affected. The major cancellations are of domestic European flights," he said.

Currently, the flag carrier is India's largest flight operator to Europe with 30 flights to and from the continent on Boeing 777LR (long range) aircraft.

Other leading carriers like Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines, which operate flights to Europe, also confirmed that there was no cancellation or disruption of their flights to Europe due to the ash cover so far.

"We are, however, keeping a close watch on the situation to avoid chaos," a senior official at the Vijay Mallya-promoted Kingfisher Airlines told IANS.

The senior official added that if the situation worsens, the airline may take measures like route alteration to avoid the ash cover zones.

Kingfisher Airlines currently operates four daily flights between India and Britain, including Delhi-London and Mumbai-London.

Jet Airways, which has a considerable presence on the European continent with its international hub based in the Belgian city of Brussels, said the situation was under control and none of its 18 daily flights, including six connecting flights to North America, were affected.

Jet Airways operates 12 flights from India to Europe, including return flights, while six flights have a stopover in Europe before they either move on to North America or return to India. The company operates its operations on Boeing 777ER (extended range) aircraft and Airbus A330 aircraft.

Meanwhile, officials of all three Indian air carriers operating flights to Europe were asked to prepare contingency plans by the civil aviation ministry, which suggested the airlines look into alternative routes to North America and western Europe.

The ash cloud from Iceland's Grimsvotn volcano now threatens northern Europe. British Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said airports in Britain should return to normal Wednesday as the ash cloud went down from 12 miles to just two.

Around 500 flights were cancelled in Britain after the eruption of the volcano Saturday, leaving passengers stranded at certain Scottish and northern England airports.

Aviation experts assert that an aircraft passing through the ash clouds may experience technical difficulties like engine failure.

The airline safety risk assessment procedures explain this anomaly as an increase of suspended particles in the engine's turbines have the potential to choke the engine to an halt.

Last April, a similar ash cover disrupted air traffic in one of the busiest aviation sectors of the world. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), it cost USD 1.8 billion and set back the global economy by USD 5 billion.
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