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Mount Etna Eruption Forces Closure of Catania Airport and Dozens of Flight Cancellations

Ahead of Italy’s biggest bank holiday, an ash cloud from the eruption caused flight cancellations, delays and diversions.

Catania airport has reopened after a volcanic eruption forced it to shut.

Travel to and from Sicily was majorly disrupted after Mount Etna erupted on Sunday evening. 

The majority of flights in and out of Catania airport were cancelled. The airport initially hoped to reopen at 8pm on Monday but remained closed until 6am on Tuesday 15 August.

Etna is Europe’s most active volcano and Italian authorities say it has entered a “pre-alert” phase, moving from warning level F0 to F1.

The chaos came a day before Italy’s biggest national holiday, Ferragosto.

Catania Airport closed after Mount Etna eruption

On Monday evening, airport officials announced that all flights were suspended at Catania until 6am on Tuesday due to volcanic ash fallout. 

Catania is Sicily’s second biggest airport and operates domestic and international flights.

The airport has now reopened but has advised passengers to check with their airline for information about their flight.

The eruption has now subsided but much of Catania has ash on the streets. The mayor has banned the use of motorcycles until Wednesday and banned drivers from driving over 30kph.

Catania normally handles around 200 flights a day and had to close at 2.38am on Monday following the arrival of a flight from Casablanca. The airport is around 50km south of the volcano.

Catania airport: Where were flights being diverted to?

Catania airport’s departures and arrivals boards showed that approximately 95 per cent of flights on Monday were cancelled.

However a few flights were still arriving or being diverted to other airports in Sicily.

Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean, therefore the airports are spread out. 

Catania and Comiso airports are on the island’s east coast. Whereas Palermo airport, the biggest on the island, is on the west coast. It is a four-to-five hour drive from Catania to Palermo airport.

A few flights were also being diverted to Trapani airport which is four-hour drive from Catania.

How to travel between Sicily’s airports

Mount Etna has been going through a particularly active period for the last four years. Eruptions lead to Catania airport closing once every few months.

The airport does not typically provide transportation assistance to passengers when it is forced to close.

Unfortunately Sicily does not have a good public transport system. There are coaches between Catania, Palermo and Trapani but these mostly operate from the city centres rather than the airports.

Bus company AST operates inter-city coaches, their timetable is available here.

There are car hire companies at all of Sicily’s airports.

What is the advice from airlines?

Ryanair warned all passengers travelling to and from Catania on 14 August that they could face “possible delays, diversion or cancellations to flights”. The budget airline said that affected passengers would be notified as soon as possible.

EasyJet are the main airline flying from the UK to Catania. They were forced to cancel flights to Catania from Bristol, Edinburgh and Gatwick. They were diverting some flights to Comiso airport, a two-hour drive from Catania airport.

Dozens of flights to Catania from other airlines across Europe were also cancelled.

Where else were flights being disrupted by the eruption?

Comiso airport, around 150km from Mount Etna, was affected by the eruption too with flights showing delays on Monday morning. Air traffic heading for the island of Malta was also being redirected to avoid the ash cloud from the eruption that has spread across Sicily.

European air passenger rights mean that travellers whose flights were heavily delayed or cancelled due to the eruption were entitled to meals and hotels as appropriate.

Cancellations, delays and disruptions could continue at short notice – especially if more eruptions occur.

Sicily’s summer of travel chaos

The closure comes just days after Catania reopened following a major fire in one of its terminals mid-July.

The fire led to thousands of flights being cancelled or diverted, with many tourists opting to cancel their holidays altogether.

Airport authorities have been criticised for their slow and disorganised response with hoteliers saying around 40,000 nights of accommodation were lost because of the travel disruption.

Source : Euronews

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