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A person looks at an information board at France's Lille-Lesquin Airport, which closed as a result of the volcano eruption in Iceland. - 


Kai Ryssdal: Europe took an economic hit today because of Iceland. No banks involved this time. Just a volcano that exploded and sent millions of tons of rock and sand into the atmosphere. Prevailing winds being what they are, that dust cloud traveled south and east and grounded planes in several European countries. Britain shut down its airspace. Norway, the Netherlands and Ireland followed suit. As did parts of France.

From the Marketplace European Desk, Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: Volcanic ash and aviation don't mix. The tiny particles can clog up an engine. As the huge cloud of ash drifted high above northern Britain this morning, the air industry regulator banned all commercial flights.

Bob Jones is the authority's head of operations.

BOB JONES: Safety is our number one priority. And we won't be able to lift those restrictions until we're comfortable that it's safe to have aircraft fly with members of the traveling public again.

British airspace is the busiest in Europe. The closure hit 6,000 flights, stranding 600,000 passengers in the U.K. alone.

PASSENGER: Basically we've just been told all flights have been canceled. Nobody really to tell you what to do, where to go. It's really bewildering.

The cost of today's closure may be less than it seems. The airlines probably lost a few million dollars. And the insurance industry is not concerned.

Spokesman Nick Starling says not every travel policy will pay out for delays due to volcanic ash.

NICK STARLING: There's no indication that this is a massive event. A lot of people are affected. Not all travel insurers will be paying out in this event.

Most of the airspace of northern Europe will probably be open again tomorrow. If so, when the dust settles, the economic damage may be minimal. But the volcano in Iceland is still erupting. Another dust cloud could be on its way.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.