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Gunman, strike and volcano hit Europe air travel

March 20, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Separate airports and airlines in Europe were battling three different disruptions over the weekend.

A presumed Islamic extremist named Ziyed Ben Belgacem, shouting that he wanted to kill and die for Allah, attacked a female French soldier at Paris Orly Airport.

The gunman grabbed the soldier’s assault rifle, held a gun to her head and yelled “Whatever happens, there will be deaths!” Other soldiers in the same patrol immediately shot him dead.

The attack caused morning chaos at the airport, the second-biggest in Paris after Charles de Gaulle Airport. Orly swiftly shut down and evacuated its terminals. Over 3000 travellers were evacuated and arriving passengers were trapped aboard flights that had just landed.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled and others diverted to Charles de Gaulle Airport, causing congestion there. Travellers heading for Orly Airport were told to turn back.

Adding to the challenge, Air France cabin crew have just begun a three-day strike and the airline has warned that some passengers may be offloaded because of “a reduced crew composition”. Britain’s Independent reported that the airline aims to operate all its long-haul flights during the dispute, as well as 90% of medium-haul services and 85% of domestic flights.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) which already advises Australian travellers to “exercise a high degree of caution in France due to the threat of terrorist attack” issued an update yesterday:

Following a security incident on 18 March, Orly International Airport in Paris has reopened. Contact your airline/tour provider to confirm your travel plans and follow the advice of local authorities. Pay close attention to your personal security throughout France and monitor the media for new safety or security risks. The overall level of advice has not changed. We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in France.

MEANWHILE, Catania airport in eastern Sicily reopened after a heavy volcanic ash cloud from an eruption by Mount Etna made take-offs and landings impossible.

Molten lava blasting from Etna exploded last week when it hit snow on the mountainside, injuring 10 people including scientists investigating recent eruptions.

Written by Peter Needham

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