People wait for information in the departure lounge at Gatwick airport in London -- April 15, 2010.
People wait for information in the departure lounge at Gatwick airport in London -- April 15, 2010. - 
Listen To The Story


Bill Radke: In Northern Europe, hundreds of airline flights have been canceled this morning by a giant cloud of ash after a volcano erupted in Iceland. Marketplace's Europe correspondent Stephen Beard is with us live from London. Stephen, what is the latest?

Stephen Beard: British, Irish and Scandinavian air space is now closed. There's no commercial flights in or out of these countries at all until at least 6 p.m. local time tonight. U.K. air space is among the busiest in Europe -- 6,000 flights a day including overflights -- so this is causing massive disruption.

Radke: And Stephen, is it just that ash makes a visibility problem?

Beard: No, in fact the biggest threat, says Mark Pilling of Airline Business Magazine, is that the ash will clog up a plane's engines:

Marcus Pilling: It is about the danger of the, you know, the substances, the dust particles, anything else that's in the cloud itself, being injested into engines and causing them to fail.

Over the past three decades, about 90 aircraft have been damaged in this way -- none with fatal consequences, but the danger is very real.

Radke: And Stephen, can you tell how long today we're going to see flights disrupted like this?

Beard: Well it's impossible to say with absolute certainty, of course the air space is expected to be opened again at 6 o'clock. The cloud is expected to pass out of U.K. air space early this afternoon. But there is the danger of another cloud coming this way; the volcano in Iceland is still erupting.

Radke: Mmm. Marketplace's Stephen Beard reporting on the cloud. Thank you.

BeardL OK, Bill.