afrol News, 16 April - As more than half of Europe's airports are closed down due to volcanic ashes, most direct flights between Africa and Europe have been cancelled. The closure hits Africa's favourite European connections.
The main European airports providing direct flights to Africa have been closed due to the ash clouds stemming from an Icelandic volcano. And weather forecasts foresee further closures during the weekend, with volcanic ashes moving southwards and eastwards the European continent.
Africa's favourite connection points in Europe, all airports in Paris and London, have been closed and will probably remain closed at least until Monday, maybe even longer. All flights to Britain are cancelled, and in France, only southern destinations such as Marseilles still remain open.
Other main European airports with direct flights to Africa being closed include Frankfurt and most German destination. Currently, Munich in Germany is still open including for flights from Johannesburg, but German authorities foresee a closure of this airport as well later today, Friday.
Further, all Dutch, Belgian, Scandinavian and Polish airports are closed. Regarding direct flights to Africa, especially the Brussels and Amsterdam airports have cancelled all flights. In Russia, Moscow connections to Africa and the rest of the world are grounded.
Forecasts indicate even more airports with direct flights to Africa will be closed later today or on Saturday and Sunday. This includes southern Germany (especially Munich), Switzerland (Zurich and Geneva), northern Italy (Milan) and Austria (Vienna).
Some major Africa-Europe connections however remain open, including Lisbon, Madrid, Rome, Marseilles and Athens. Portuguese airports, including Lisbon, however are on alert and may have to close down during the weekend.
For Africans absolutely needing to visit Europe, there remain some few options. Lisbon and Madrid can still be reached and have excellent rail connections to other Western European capitals. Spain and Portugal can also be reached through Morocco, which has excellent flight connections with large parts of Africa.
Central Europe can be reached through Marseilles and Rome, or via connection flights over Egypt, Turkey or Greece.
But the many cancellations make it difficult to get tickets on alternative routes. South African Airways (SAA), for example, has cancelled its flights to London and Frankfurt, while still flying on Munich and Zurich as long as these airports remain open. But SAA has no plans of setting up alternative flights to other European destinations still open.
Other airliners have reacted to the closure in the same manner. Air France simply "asks the passengers not to go to the airports" that are closed, including Paris. No extra flights have been set up between Marseilles and African destination to compensate for cancelled Paris flights. The airliner's long-distance planes are grounded in Paris, not able to be transported to still open airports.
The closure of Europe's principal African connections will have economic implications for Africa, with many meetings cancelled and tourism flows to Africa drying.
Worst hit are charter destinations in Africa, mostly Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Cape Verde, but also East Africa and Indian Ocean island states. The large tourism industry in these countries largely depends on the Northern European market, including Britons, Germans, Scandinavians and French, all of which are met with cancelled charter flights.
Meteorologists and volcanologists are unable to say how long Europe will have to keep its airports closed. While the Icelandic volcano eruption is said to currently being slowed down, there are no means of forecasting whether it will end soon or keep on for years, thus causing occasional airport closures.
The last time Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull erupted, in 1821, it lasted for two years. Meanwhile, Icelandic authorities fear that the nearby volcano Katla, which is much larger and more explosive, will erupt and cause even greater chaos. In two thirds of the historic eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, this volcano ignited an explosion in Katla.
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