Located as it is under the flight path into Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, a serene peace has reigned in the skies over MotoMatters.com headquarters for the past couple of days. The cloud of ash spewing out of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Southern Iceland has brought air traffic to a standstill over much of Europe, causing many thousands of flights to be canceled altogether. Stable weather over Northern Europe has meant that the ash cloud has drifted over large parts of Europe, right at the level where international air travel takes place, posing a lethal hazard for modern jet aircraft.
The situation is set to continue for at least all of Saturday and Sunday morning, and no guarantee that the situation will improve after that. The outburst has already affected sporting events in Europe, with several top European cyclists including Bradley Wiggins, Carlos Sastre and Alejandro Valverde forced to miss tomorrow's Amstel Gold Race, one of professional cycling's spring classics.
With so much of MotoGP's infrastructure - team members, riders, journalists, Dorna staff - based in Europe, any further cancellations could threaten next Sunday's MotoGP round at Motegi. The latest forecast from EUROCONTROL, the European air control organization, predicts that the volcanic ash cloud will keep flights grounded for the next 24 hours, but hopes are high that the situation will have improved sufficiently for the teams to fly out to Japan on Monday or Tuesday, more or less as planned. The Marlboro Ducati team was the first to respond to our enquiries about whether their travel plans had been affected, a spokesperson telling MotoMatters.com that they were monitoring the situation very closely, but hoped to be able to depart on schedule. "The team should leave some time on Monday or Tuesday, and so far at least, the airlines have not yet canceled any flights on those days."
Both IRTA and Dorna are also said to be watching the situation very carefully, and monitoring the status of flights due to be carrying teams and cargo closely. The problem, as the Marlboro Ducati spokesperson pointed out to us, is that it is impossible to make a backup plan at the moment, as airlines are refusing to take reservations for flights at the moment, wary of the cost of issuing refunds in the event of those reservations having to be canceled.
According to the Spanish website Motocuatro.com, Dorna does have one backup plan in place, however. Motocuatro is claiming that Dorna has chartered two planes, to leave from Spain and Italy and fly to Tokyo via Turkey and Kuala Lumpur. This would allow Dorna to carry 600 people from Europe to Japan, sufficient to run the Grand Prix effectively. With airports in Southern Italy and Spain so far largely unaffected by the volcanic ash cloud, the chances of these flights being able to depart are very good. But volcanoes are both unpredictable and completely beyond the ability of humans to control, and so the situation is in the hands of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.