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Volcano stalls air travel in Europe, strands passengers

LONDON — Ash spewing from an Icelandic volcano is bringing disruption and days of uncertainty to more parts of Europe, as officials in Germany said dozens of flights will be grounded today.

Even though some say it's been a massive overreaction by badly prepared safety regulators — one airline even claims the official scientific findings are simply wrong — hundreds of flights were canceled Tuesday as winds blew the cloud of ash from the Grimsvotn volcano over Scotland and other parts of Europe. Experts say that particles in the ash could stall jet engines and sandblast planes' windows.

The only comfort for frustrated passengers and airlines is that officials in Iceland said the amount of ash being released by the volcano is decreasing, and officials don't expect the disruption to be as bad as last year, when millions were stranded after the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Travelers trying to go to or leave Scotland have been hit hardest, but the problem also began to affect Germany, where weather officials said it would not allow any takeoffs or landings at the northern Bremen and Hamburg airports early today due to increased levels of ash in the atmosphere.

Dozens of domestic and international flights were to be affected by the closure. Authorities said it may be necessary to halt all air traffic coming and going from Berlin's airports, as well as Hannover, depending on the winds.

The main international body representing carriers, the International Air Transport Association, complained to the British government about the way it had handled the issue, saying it should have had Cessna planes ready to carry out tests, instead of relying on the weather service. British Airways said it sent its own verification flight, an Airbus A320, to Scotland late Tuesday to assess the risk.

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