Numerous flights from Catania–Fontanarossa Airport (CTA) in Sicily were canceled or delayed due to heavy volcanic ash clouds after nearby Mount Etna began to erupt.
The incident, which took place during the early morning on May 21, 2023, came just a few days after national strike action in Italy on May 19, which had previously affected essential ground-handling services at various airports during the weekend.
The eruption resulted in the cancellation of 68 flights, both domestic and international. Specifically, 44 canceled departures, with 27 from Ryanair, seven from ITA Airways, and six from easyJet. Additionally, 24 arrivals were canceled, mainly affecting the same carriers. To mitigate the inconveniences caused by the eruption, airlines offered rescheduling options and, when required, accommodation assistance.
Situated only 18 kilometers from Europe’s most active volcano, Catania airport plays a vital role in connecting Sicily with the rest of Italy and Europe. As of 2022, the airport served more than 10 million passengers. On the day of the eruption, it was set to be the sixth busiest airport in Italy, with 253 flights scheduled for both departure and arrival.
Mount Etna’s volcanic activity persisted throughout the day, occasionally intensifying. Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) reported ash fall on the airport’s runway, the city of Catania, and at least one town situated on Mount Etna’s slopes.
Weather conditions limited visibility of the eruption but according to local media loud rumbles could be heard in the region. The volcano experienced a prolonged eruption in early 2021, but it has not had a major one since 1922.
By the evening of May 22, 2023, the volcanic activity on Mount Etna began to ease, allowing authorities to reopen Catania airport. However, flights resumed cautiously, with continuous monitoring and evaluation of the situation being the top priority.
The airport stated there still might be initial limitations and delays to the scheduled times.