Mount Etna eruption forces grounding of flights at Sicily's Catania airport

Flights to eastern Sicily were disrupted on Sunday after the nearby Mount Etna volcano began to erupt, tipping black ash onto runways and vehicles.

Video from the scene showed smoggy looking cloud blanketing roads and flakes of dark, gritty ash scattered across car windscreens.

Flights in and out of the port city and tourist favourite Catania, on Sicily's east coast, are suspended until 9am local time on Monday, or until they can guarantee safe conditions, the airport said on Twitter.

Europe's most active volcano can awaken from its slumber several times a year, jettisoning lava and ash high over the Mediterranean island.

But it hasn't unleashed a major eruption since 1922.

The blasts often create a spectacle of flaming lava, but cloud cover on the rainy day masked views of this eruption, according to Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), which closely monitors Etna with instruments installed on its slopes.

It said ash had fallen on Catania and at least one town perched lower down the slopes of the 3,330 metre high volcano.

he INGV indicated that monitoring had recorded evidence of a stepping up in tremor activity in recent days.