Volcanic Eruption Impacts Canary Islands Aviation

On Sunday, September 19th, La Palma Airport in the Canary Islands had to shut down briefly due to a nearby volcanic activity. The eruption of Cumbre Vieja prompted at least two aircraft to be diverted to Tenerife North while other flights were slightly delayed.

Binter Canarias ATR 72 Turboprop Airplane
While some reports indicate that two Binter Canarias ATR 72 turboprops had to be diverted, data from flight-tracking sites only show one ATR needing diversion. Photo: Getty Images

Two diversions and several delays

According to Aviation24.be, La Palma Airport had to very briefly shut down due to volcanic activity from nearby Cumbre Vieja. At least one Binter Canarias ATR 72-600 was reported to have diverted to Tenerife North.

Spanish air navigation service provider (ANSP) Enaire, issued a precautionary recommendation that no flights depart to the island of La Palma.

Posts to Twitter in Spanish noted that the ANSP was closely following the development of the volcanic activity and that it was activating procedures for volcanic ash in coordination with Eurocontrol. A few hours later, Enaire tweeted that there was “no air traffic impact” but that it was continuing to follow the evolution of the volcanic activity.

Minimal disruption experienced

Likely due to La Palma’s small scale of operations combined with lower traffic due to the ongoing health crisis, disruption to air traffic appeared to be minimal. Although some Binter Canarias ATR72s had to divert, other aircraft experienced only minor delays.

For example, Binter Canarias flight NT633 from Tenerife was delayed in arriving by 90 minutes, while   TUI flight OR567 was only delayed by 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the arrival of CanaryFly’s flight PM454 was delayed by less than 30 minutes. There was a small spike in delays for aircraft departing La Palma. However, almost all of these delays appear to have been quite minimal.

Judging by the video footage posted to Twitter (above), the minimal disruptions experienced were likely made possible by winds carrying smoke and ash in the opposite direction of the airport. Indeed, the volcano, Cumbre Vieja (which translates to Old Summit), is around 15km (less than nine and a half miles) away from La Palma Airport.

Cumbre Vieja
The volcano, Cumbre Vieja, is just 15km away from La Palma airport. Photo: Google Maps

First eruption in 50 years

Following a series of small earthquakes, the eruption of Cumbre Vieja took place, sending lava high into the air and streaming down towards the houses of two villages within the volcano’s national park. According to The Guardian, authorities had already begun evacuating the population as well as some farm animals from nearby villages.

Two hours after the eruption, additional villages were ordered to be evacuated, including El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane. As night fell, glowing orange rivers of lava could be seen flowing down the hill. The president of the Canary Islands reported that some 5,000 people in total had been evacuated.

Were you at all impacted by the volcanic activity on La Palma? Have you ever been to this island? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us by leaving a comment.