WASHINGTON, April 19, 2010 — Ash from an Icelandic volcano continues to wreak havoc with air flights across Europe, including American military flights.
Thousands of commercial and military flights from Ireland to the Ukraine have been cancelled as the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which started erupting last week, continues to spew ash.
The American military is making adjustments. The U.S. bases in Mildenhall and Lakenheath, England, and Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases in Germany have been affected by the ash plume.
“There are no flight ops due to the mandatory declaration and suspension of flights from EuroControl,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today. EuroControl is the equivalent of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
“We still have a solid contingency plan for evacuating our wounded out of [the U.S. Central Command area], and we’ve relocated some of our aeromedical evacuation aircraft to Rota, Spain, along with medical teams that provide for care all along the route,” Whitman added.
Flights transporting ill and wounded soldiers that would normally head to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany are being rerouted. Joint Base Balad in Iraq has become the new hub for military aeromedical evacuations, with the first patients arriving April 17 at the Air Force Theater Hospital there. The new medevac route runs from Bagram, Afghanistan, to Balad, Iraq, to a refueling stop at Rota and finally to Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility Washington in Maryland.
Taking the wounded along the southern rim of Europe takes about eight hours longer than flying through Germany or England, Whitman said, but all aeromedical evacuation needs are being met. Aerial refueling will be employed if clinical needs of the patient require it, officials said, but it has not been needed yet.
The ash plume has had no effect on operations in Afghanistan, Whitman said. Some resupply flights have been affected, with European goods now flowing from other logistics hubs, U.S. Transportation Command officials said. Still, most military goods ship via land or water, and these shipments have not been affected.
However, the grounding of flights did affect NATO Exercise Brilliant Ardent 10, U.S. Air Force officials reported. The large-scale NATO response air live exercise, hosted by Germany, began April 12 and was scheduled to run through April 22. During the exercise, the 22nd Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base and the 351st Air Refueling Squadron from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, have been partnering with air forces from the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Turkey in the exercise.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)