x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

More travel disruptions likely as ash cloud moves

Ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano has already grounded hundreds of planes in the UK, giving UAE travellers looking forward to summer holidays an anxious wait.

Passengers sleep on the floor in the main terminal at Edinburgh Airport yesterday after the latest eruption by an Icelandic volcano cancelled hundreds of flights.
Passengers sleep on the floor in the main terminal at Edinburgh Airport yesterday after the latest eruption by an Icelandic volcano cancelled hundreds of flights.

DUBAI // As a volcanic ash cloud began to spread over European airspace yesterday, UAE residents looking forward to their summer holidays were left with an anxious wait - and a feeling of déjà vu.

In April last year, travel chaos hit thousands as the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull grounded flights across Europe. Many travellers were forced to sleep at airports after their connecting flights were cancelled, while airlines lost millions of dollars to compensation payouts.

Now, little more than a year on, the eruption of another Icelandic volcano - Grimsvotn - is prompting fears that travellers could be about to go through it all again.

Ominously, yesterday's Emirates flight from Dubai to Glasgow Airport was forced to divert to Manchester Airport, while hundreds of other flights were grounded as the ash reached the UK and Ireland. More than 200 flights were cancelled to and from Glasgow Airport, and airports in Aberdeen and Edinburgh experienced similar problems.

"We're experiencing major disruptions to flights," said a Glasgow Airport spokeswoman. "At this point, Scotland and Northern England have been covered by volcanic ash. We'll have to continue to monitor the situation and wait."

Several airlines, including British Airways, Loganair, BMI and easyJet, cancelled flights to and from Scotland yesterday. The ash cloud also affected air travel in Norway and Denmark.

Volcanic ash can damage aircraft machinery and cause serious deterioration in the plane's engine. It can also diminish visibility and damage aircraft surfaces and windscreens.

Aberdeen Airport resumed operations after the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) deemed the airspace safe. The ash was expected to clear over Glasgow and Edinburgh airports by this morning.

An Emirates spokesman said the Dubai flight was diverted to ensure the safety of the passengers and crew. "Emirates provided ground transportation to ensure the passengers reached Glasgow Airport from Manchester Airport," the spokesman said. "Emirates apologises for the inconvenience caused to its passengers, but the safety of all of Emirates' passengers, crew and aircraft is paramount."

Ground transport will also be provided from Scotland to Manchester for return flights to Dubai.

Emirates' flight EK036 from Newcastle to Dubai was also grounded yesterday due to airspace restrictions in the north-eastern city. The airline said it transported passengers from Newcastle to Manchester Airport to travel on alternative Emirates flights to Dubai and beyond.

The spokesman said all other flights to the UK and Europe continued to operate on schedule. Connecting flights to northern cities in the UK were also cancelled by the Dutch airline KLM. The airline does not offer direct flights between the UAE and the UK, but connecting flights from Amsterdam to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle were cancelled yesterday morning.

The company said it would try to prevent UAE passengers from becoming stranded in Amsterdam. "Passengers from Dubai to those cities will be warned about the cancellation of the connecting flights when they initially check in," a spokeswoman for the airline said.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic said no flights from Dubai to London had been cancelled by yesterday afternoon. British Airways has so far only cancelled flights from London to Scotland.

"Our flights from the Middle East all fly in to London and are currently running normally," a spokesman for the company said.

A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic said no UAE flights were affected.

Iceland's airspace remained open yesterday, as the Icelandic Meteorological Office determined that the Grimsvotn eruption had abated. The ash plume had dropped to between three and five kilometres high yesterday from its peak of 20km after the eruption.

Among those whose travel plans were disrupted was the US president, Barack Obama, who cut short a trip to Ireland and flew to London a day early on Monday.

Despite the turmoil at airports, the European Union's transport commissioner said he did not expect the Grimsvotn ash cloud to result in the widespread closure of airspace, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported yesterday.

"We are still looking at a very challenging week for passengers and for the airlines," said Siim Kallas, the EU's transport chief.

"Although we are partly dependent on the weather and the pattern of ash dispersion, we do not at this stage anticipate the widespread airspace closures and the prolonged disruption we saw last year."

Cancellations have so far been determined by individual airlines, and the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office encouraged travellers to consult with providers before leaving for the airport.

The CAA said other parts of the UK and Ireland could be affected by the ash cloud later in the week.

The aviation authority introduced new measures after last year's volcanic ash crisis. Any UK airline now wishing to operate in areas of medium- or high-density ash need to put forward a safety case for approval by the CAA.

The safety case outlines measures to be taken to mitigate the risk of flying through ash. Many airlines already have such cases agreed for medium density ash. None has so far submitted a plan for flying in high density ash.

"We can't rule out disruption, but the new arrangements that have been put in place since last year's ash cloud mean the aviation sector is better prepared and will help to reduce any disruption in the event that volcanic ash affects UK airspace," said Andrew Haines, the chief executive of the CAA.

More delays are expected as the cloud continues to move. More than 500 flights are expected to be affected.