Volcanic eruption impacts Italy ahead of major national holiday.

Key Points:

  • Mount Etna's eruption on Sunday evening led to significant travel disruptions in Sicily, primarily impacting Catania airport.

  • Amidst Ferragosto preparations, Italy's key holiday, the majority of flights at Catania were canceled due to volcanic ash fallout.

  • Etna, Europe's most active volcano, is currently in a "pre-alert" phase, as per Italian authorities, escalating from F0 to F1 warning level.

CATANIA — Catania airport, Sicily's primary aviation hub, faced significant disruptions when Mount Etna erupted on Sunday evening. The eruption led to a cascade of flight cancellations, delays, and diversions, casting a shadow over travel preparations for Ferragosto, Italy's largest national holiday.

Initially, officials had anticipated the airport's reopening by Monday evening, 8pm. However, due to the ash fallout, operations remained halted until the early hours of Tuesday, 6am. The airport's proximity to Mount Etna, located just 50km north, intensified the travel chaos. It's worth noting that Catania typically manages approximately 200 flights daily. Yet, this eruption forced the airport to halt its operations shortly after a flight from Casablanca touched down at 2.38am on Monday.

Mount Etna stands as Europe's most spirited volcano, currently transitioning to a heightened "pre-alert" phase, marking a shift from an F0 to F1 warning level. Despite its regular activity, this eruption was particularly potent, causing approximately 95% of Catania's scheduled flights on Monday to be canceled.

While Catania is the second largest airport in Sicily, accommodating both domestic and international flights, the region also relies on other airports spread across its vast terrain. Some affected flights sought alternatives, diverting to airports such as Comiso on the east coast, or Palermo on the west, the latter being the island's largest and about a four-to-five-hour drive from Catania. Trapani airport also received some of the diverted traffic, located a four-hour drive away from Catania.

Following the eruption's aftermath, the streets of Catania are laden with volcanic ash. To ensure safety, the mayor imposed a ban on motorcycles until Wednesday and capped driving speeds to 30kph.

Catania airport, although now operational, urges travelers to liaise directly with airlines for the most current flight information. Such eruptions have become somewhat routine for the region, with Mount Etna's surges causing Catania's shutdown every few months, especially given its heightened activity over the past four years.