Volcanic ash cloud: Where is it today?

As of May 13, the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland has shrunk substantially over the past two days, allowing dozens of airports in Europe to reopen and restoring flights to normal.

In this image from video made May 8, a renewed column of ash rises from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano.

The volcanic ash cloud from Iceland thinned out and has shrunk considerably over the past two days, freeing up flights and allowing airports to reopen across Europe and north Africa. But there are still some delays in Spain and Turkey.

Eurocontrol’s May 13 mapping (pdf download) of the ash cloud shows something like a Finland-sized boomerang coming off the east coast of Iceland, which is actually quite small compared to earlier this week.

IN PICTURES: Iceland volcano

The cloud was larger than all of Europe on the European flight monitor's May 11 map (pdf download), interfering with the airspace of Spain, Morocco, and Turkey.

At the source of the ash cloud – Eyjafjallajökull volcano itself – scientists on Wednesday recorded that the ash plume had slightly decreased, according to the daily report from the Icelandic Meteorological Office and Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland,

Eurocontrol’s Central Flow Management Unit (CFMU) provides an up-to-the-minute breakdown on the total number of flights in the air, already landed, and still expected to pass through European airspace on May 13. Of about 26,500 flights expected today, CFMU estimated a 3.3-minute delay per flight.

All 10 previously closed airports in Morocco had reopened by Wednesday.

"Today Eurocontrol expects normal amounts of traffic across Europe with fully normal operations," Eurocontrol said today on its Twitter page. Friday is also expected to see normal flight operations.

But the ash cloud - or at least bad weather - is still causing delays in Spain, at Madrid/Barajas airport, and in Turkish airspace.

A smaller no-fly zone?

With airports much at the whim of the weather's affect on the ash cloud, the European Union's European Aviation Safety Agency is now considering shrinking the no-fly zone surrounding the ash cloud. This would allow flights to depart even if there was a small amount of ash in the air.

The agency has proposed imposing a 120-mile no-fly zone, which would be hundreds of miles smaller than the one used now in Europe, according to the Associated Press. Airlines have criticized the agency for causing unnecessary flight cancellations and monetary losses.

"At the crux of the dispute is a question fundamental to commercial aviation," writes The Wall Street Journal: "What level of risk is acceptable for passengers, airlines and governments? It is an issue carriers face daily, assessing potential threats ranging from thunderstorms to birds. Safety experts say there are no documented cases of passenger fatalities due to engine failure from ash."

Carriers say they constantly deal with some level of volcanic ash in the atmosphere.

IN PICTURES: Iceland volcano


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