Sandstorm Shuts Down Canary Islands Airports

A sandstorm from North Africa has caused mass travel chaos in the Canary Islands. Storm Calima reduced visibility to zero on Saturday night preventing aircraft from leaving major airports on the islands.

Gran Canaria Airport
Gran Canaria was among some of the airports hit by Sandstorm Calima. Photo: Jenova20 via Wikimedia Commons

What happened?

Flights in and out of Gran Canaria and Tenerife were suspended on Saturday evening after a sandstorm swept across the islands. Blowing in from North Africa, sandstorm Calima caused such poor visibility that it was deemed too dangerous for aircraft to operate on the evening of 22 February. As a result, all flights were canceled, causing mass travel chaos during a popular holiday period.

According to FlightRadar24, the cancelations began around 16:00 UTC. At Gran Canaria Airport one of the first departures to be canceled was a Norwegian flight to Trondheim Vaernes Airport in Norway. The Boeing 737 operating flight DY1771 was due to leave at 16:30 UTC. However, the flight was ultimately canceled. From this point onwards, according to FlightRadar24’s records, all flights out of Gran Canaria airport did not operate.

LPA map
LPA has been hit hardest by flight cancelations due to the sandstorm. Photo: Great Circle Mapper

Gran Canaria hit worst by sandstorm Calima

Diversions for aircraft arriving into Gran Canaria Airport also happened around the same time. Once again, a Norwegian 737 registered SE-RRX was diverted away from Gran Canaria to Tenerife South Airport. It had been completing flight number DY4229 from Gothenburg in Sweden.

Norwegian 737
Some of Norwegian’s flights were affected by the sandstorm. Photo: RHL Images via Wikimedia Commons

Controladores Aéreos was one of the first to report on the effects of the sandstorm and tweeted that passengers should have patience. In a tweet translated from Spanish, the organization said:

“…As conditions get worse, it’s advisable to restrict flights. Please have patience.”

Through the course of Saturday evening, many other flights were also diverted to Tenerife as well as to Fuerteventura Airport. However, not all flights managed to reach the islands. In fact, some were diverted to mainland European countries. A few flights found themselves landing at Faro Airport in Portugal, Malaga Costa Del Sol in Spain, and Madrid Barajas Airport (also in Spain).

However, whilst the main concern was initially for Gran Canaria Airport, things soon worsened in Tenerife. In the interest of landing safely in the Canary Islands, many of Gran Canaria’s flights had diverted to Tenerife South Airport. However, the sandstorm soon brought poor visibility in Tenerife as well, which resulted in further diversions.

Flights that had been heading for Tenerife South Airport then diverted to other airports including Malaga Costa Del Sol Airport, Lisbon Humberto Delgado in Portugal, and Agadir Al Massira Airport in Morocco.

The aftermath

The timing of the storm was particularly unfortunate. Many UK travelers were headed to the Canary Islands this week for half-term holiday, and this travel chaos has left some stranded. Still, there are worse places you could be.

High winds will continue ravaging the Canary Islands all the way until Monday 24 February. However, today seems to be a better day for flying. Most departures out of Gran Canaria Airport have gone ahead, if only slightly behind schedule. Likewise, many arrivals have landed at Gran Canaria Airport today, according to FlightRadar24.

Arrivals have also now resumed at Tenerife South Airport with minor delays to some operations. It appears as quickly as it started, the sandstorm has now dissipated.

Were you affected by the sandstorms in Gran Canaria? Let us know in the comments.