Ash cloud affecting travel plans for PM, military
The cloud of volcanic ash that continues to wreak havoc on civilian air travel to Europe is also affecting the plans of Canada's military and the country's political leaders.
Two hundred troops from Canadian Forces Base Petawawa were supposed to ship out to Afghanistan on Thursday, but their travel plans were interrupted when European airports cancelled and delayed flights because of the cloud of ash drifting in the air along an Atlantic Ocean flight path.
"They were supposed to have left yesterday, but the delay has changed things," Lt. Dennis Power, public affairs officer for the 2 Canadian Mechanized Group, told CTV.ca Friday. "Once the airports are open, then we'll start moving troops."
The flight to Afghanistan typically involves a stop at an airport somewhere in Europe, he said.
Power says delays in flights to Afghanistan are not unusual -- winter air travel is occasionally delayed by snow or ice storms -- and the army's troop movement plans have a built-in flexibility to account for delays.
"Operationally, this doesn't have a huge impact. It's not unusual for us to have delays for one reason or another," Power said.
Meanwhile, Air Canada cut more European destinations Friday, including flights to Munich, Zurich and Geneva.
On Thursday, the airline stopped flying to Frankfurt, Paris and London.
The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupted Wednesday.
Two days later, an ash cloud is drifting along an Atlantic Ocean flight path between six and 11 kilometres above the ground.
This has created temporary and fluctuating no-fly zones across Europe, including Britain, Ireland, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Belgium. Many flights out of Germany and Poland have also been halted.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and leaders from the three opposition parties were planning to depart on Saturday for the state funeral of Poland's president.
Now, the politicians are waiting to see if the ash cloud will keep them grounded.
Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, said that officials are keeping tabs on the ash cloud's trajectory.
"We continue to monitor the situation closely," MacDougall said.
The final decision on Harper's travel will now be made on Saturday morning. If Harper does travel to Poland, the flight will depart around 3 p.m. Ottawa time.
"We are mindful of the risks the volcanic ash presents to air travel. As always with the prime minister's travel -- and keeping in mind the tragic events in Poland -- proper safety procedures will be followed."
Polish president Lech Kaczynski, along with other dignitaries, died during a plane crash last Saturday.
With files from The Canadian Press