Volcanic Eruption Causes Caribbean Flight Chaos

The eruption of a volcano on the island of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean is causing chaos for flights. Following four straight days of eruptions, flights to and from the island have been canceled since Friday. The large ash cloud has been moving east and is now causing disruption for other Caribbean islands.

Cairbbean Airlines
Caribbean Airlines has announced cancellations of multiple flights. Photo: Getty Images

Multiple eruptions

It was more than four decades ago when the volcano known as La Soufrière last erupted on the Caribbean Island of Saint Vincent on April 13th, 1979. Just days short of its anniversary, the volcano erupted again, on April 9th, 2021. The first eruption was followed swiftly by another explosion, this time sending a huge ash plume into the sky.

Over the weekend, several smaller eruptions continued to take place, disrupting water supplies and cutting off electricity to the island. Yesterday, again, more eruptions, and more ash rising into the skies. As expected, flight activity to and from the island has ceased.

St Vincent’s only airport offering scheduled international flights is Argyle International. Data shows that no planes have departed or arrived since April 9th, with Sunwing Airlines’ flight to Bridgetown the last to successfully depart. Flights are currently canceled until Friday, although further cancellations could be necessary.

Images shared on social media from the day after the eruption show just how dense the ash cloud is on the island.

Tracking flight activity

Spire Aviation, which provides global flight tracking data powered by satellites, has monitored the flight activity around the volcano, both before and after the eruption. In stark contrast to the eruption in Iceland last month, which saw many small planes and rotary aircraft arriving to view the spectacle, the Caribbean eruption has had quite the opposite effect.

Volcanic Eruption Causes Caribbean Flight Chaos
Flight activity before and after the eruption. Data and graphic: Spire Aviation

As can be seen, the area around the volcano showed no signs of flight activity in the aftermath of the eruption. Immediately following the event, a large ash cloud formed above Saint Vincent. Reports suggest the ash plume reached an altitude of 35,000 feet, causing disruption not just to the local flights, but to longer-haul services using that airspace too.

Spire Aviation advises Simple Flying that a total of 32 scheduled flights had been canceled by April 12th. Cancellations have affected Caribbean Airlines, Intercaribbean Airways and American Airlines.

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The problem is moving east

As the ash cloud continues to grow, it has begun to head east, darkening the skies above neighboring Barbados and causing flight chaos here too. LIAT, a local airline operating throughout the Caribbean region, advised on Monday that all flights south of Dominica have been suspended. This includes flights to and from Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada.

This morning, Caribbean Airlines advised that all flights to and from Barbados would be cancelled until at least April 18th. With La Soufrière showing no signs of quietening down yet, and the ash cloud still pushing eastwards, projections are that locations as far away as Cape Verde could be affected by the end of the week.

Flights between Europe and South American will likely need to reroute to avoid the ash cloud, causing longer journeys and potential disruptions to schedules.