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The volcanic cloud has reached the Caucasus

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, April 20
The ash clouds created by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano reached the Caucasus Mountains on April 19. According to information released by Kote Tevdoradze, Deputy Chairman of the Transport Administration Department, the volcanic cloud covered the Abkhazian air space before spreading to Azerbaijan. However he stressed that this fact wouldn’t affect flights scheduled to depart from Tbilisi International Airport.

Svetlana Nioradze, Head of the Weather Forecast Bureau of the National Environment Agency, could neither confirm nor deny that the volcanic cloud was over the Caucasus. “Confirmation of this requires a serious investigation of the structure of the volcanic clouds. Unfortunately I can’t give you a specific answer to this question as I have tried to find out whether there are any specialists in this field who can conduct this investigation, but in vain. The only thing I can say is that the volcanic clouds are not at all dangerous for our country, but the situation will become clearer from April 22, when wind masses will come in from the north,” Nioradze told The Messenger, stressing that the air companies can conduct flights to European countries where the airspace has been reinstated.

Meanwhile Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport, has said that the EU authorities have started working on the security issues created by the existing unstable situation, which constantly changes due to the varying winds. The European Aviation Safety Agency is trying to decide what constitutes an acceptable level of ash in the atmosphere. Ash and grit from volcanic eruptions can damage a plane in many ways, causing engines to shut down. European scientists have explained that the location of the erupting volcano below a glacial ice cap can cause explosions and plumes of grit that can be catastrophic to plane engines, depending on the prevailing winds. Geologists at the Icelandic weather office say they haven’t seen anything like this eruption before.

Kallas expressed his hope that flights will soon be reinstated in most of Europe. The losses caused by the cancellation of flights have already exceeded Euro 1 billion. A TV conference of EU Transport Ministers will discuss what further steps can be taken to deal with the issue of the blocked airports. The Ministers will focus on how and when they can safely reopen Europe's skies by making an accurate in-depth study of the ash cloud.

Some large air companies have stated that the volcanic ash is no longer dangerous for aircraft and asked for permission to reinstate their schedules. However Tbilisi Airport has been unable to conduct flights to European airports for several days. The Tbilisi Airport Information Bureau told The Messenger that the air companies are flying to Eastern Europe without hindrance but no flights can yet be made to Western countries.

European media sources state that on Monday Icelandic scientists offered some hope that conditions might be easing. They said the new volcanic ash plume which is emerging is lower, and will pose less of a threat to commercial aircraft.