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28/05/2011 - Flights to Phuket, Thailand unaffected by volcanic ash cloud

28/05/2011 - Flights to Phuket, Thailand unaffected by volcanic ash cloud

Just thirteen months after Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, spewing thousands of tons of ash into the stratosphere and grounding 100,000 flights worldwide; volcano Grimsvötn has been threatening to do the same.

The eruption of Grimsvötn on May 21st created a twelve kilometre plume of ash. By the next day the cloud had reached Greenland, Scotland and Norway.

On May 24th airports in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen were closed until further notice.

Officials at Phuket International Airport had feared international flights bound for Phuket and Bangkok might be affected. However, it seems the disruption has been limited compared to the previous eruption in April 2010.

“No airlines have cancelled flights to or from Phuket. Our biggest problem is tourist safety. If our country is safe and secure, tourists will definitely continue coming to Phuket as it is a global tourist destination,” confirmed Flight Officer Passakorn Surapipth, the acting director of Phuket International Airport.

Currently Phuket International Airport has flights each day to and from sixty cities in twenty three countries.

The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull between 14th and 20th April last year cost airlines a total of US$986 million. Flights were grounded indefinitely and tourists were forced to delay or cancel their holidays.

So far, the ash cloud from the Grimsvötn volcano has caused much less disruption.

In Europe just 900 of the 90,000 flights scheduled between 23rd and 25th May were cancelled.

Although it has affected some famous names.

The volcanic ash cloud forced The President of the United States, Barack Obama, to change his European travel plans. President Obama was due to spend Monday night in Dublin, Ireland, before heading onto London on the first leg of a six day trip. But "due to a recent change in the trajectory in the plume of volcanic ash" Obama will now take Air Force One directly to London.

And UEFA Champion’s League finalists, Barcelona Football Club, had to arrive in the UK capital two days early for their preparations for Saturday’s final against Manchester United.

The good news is, the volcano seems to be, quite literally, running out of steam. The plume of ash has already reduced to about half its original size and airlines have reported that services are back to normal.

Why is volcanic ash a danger to flights?

Commercial airlines cruise at an altitude of 30,000 feet, high above the current ash cloud.

But aircraft taking off and landing will tend to pick up ash particles which can reduce engine performance and thrust.

Due to the high temperatures inside a jet engine, the particles can fuse into tiny fragments of glass. These will then cool, harden and collect on the jet engine turbines. This will eventually jam the blades and stop the engine.

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