x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UK and Ireland ground flights due to volcano

The UK and Ireland ground flights after a cloud of ash sweeps in from the Icelandic volcano which sparked air travel chaos in Europe last month.

The UK and Ireland grounded flights again today after a fresh cloud of ash swept in from the Icelandic volcano which sparked unprecedented air travel chaos in Europe last month. British regulators imposed a flight ban from Scottish and Northern Irish airports from 7am local time (6am GMT) for 12 hours for most affected airports, warning that high ash levels could damage plane engines. Irish authorities, who stopped flights for several hours yesterday, also closed airports progressively from 7am local time, while saying transatlantic and other planes could still fly over at higher altitudes.

"The volcano in Iceland has expelled denser, coarser ash higher into the atmosphere," said the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), adding that Dublin airport would remain closed until at least midnight (11pm GMT). Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) added: "Forecasts show that levels of ash in the atmosphere over Scotland and Northern Ireland will exceed the concentrations that engine manufacturers have agreed are safe for operations."

While the flight ban would remain in place for the rest of today, the CAA said it hoped the restrictions could be lifted tomorrow. "We are pretty confident that the ash plumes will start drifting west across the Atlantic and that all UK airspace will be clear of ash tomorrow," said a CAA spokesman. "It's possible that if the strength of the wind picks up then some of the airports not operating at the moment might be able to handle flights later today. But it's certainly looking good for tomorrow."

The new shutdowns followed a closure of Irish, Northern Irish and some Scottish airspace for several hours on Tuesday, causing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and travel misery for thousands of passengers. Airspace across Europe was closed for up to a week last month after the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano, but was re-opened after emergency talks between European governments, airlines and regulators.

The CAA said some Scottish airports, including Glasgow, would likely be closed for 12 hours until 7pm local time. But regulators did not indicate that the ash was an imminent threat to airports further south, including London Heathrow, Europe's busiest air hub. Clouds of ash from the Iceland volcano last month caused the biggest aerial shutdown in Europe since World War II. Yesterday's airspace closures came on the same day European Union transport ministers met in Brussels to discuss last month's shutdown as the new ash cloud hovered over Ireland.

A notable absence was Irish transport minister Noel Dempsey - unable to fly to the meeting because of the new ash cloud chaos. Irish airline Aer Lingus said the flight ban last month had cost it about ?20 million (Dh95m), while warning that "the final cost will depend on the actual level of customer claims." The Association of British Insurers estimated that the travel chaos caused by the ash had cost insurers around £62m (Dh344m).

Eurocontrol, the continent's air traffic control co-ordinator, said more than 100,000 flights to, from and within Europe had been cancelled between April 15 and 21, preventing an estimated 10 million passengers from travelling. * AFP