News / Economy

Iceland Volcano Disrupts Air Travel in British Isles

Tom Rivers

Another wave of volcanic ash from Iceland is creeping into British airspace and has forced the closure of several airports in the northern part of the United Kingdom and in parts of Ireland.  

An ash plume from an eruption Thursday in Iceland has slowly worked its way to Britain and the first flights to be affected were in Northern Ireland, followed by cancellations in northern England and in parts of Scotland.  Flights to and from Ireland's Dublin hub were halted later Sunday.

Forecasters say the ash cloud is moving toward the southeast and the London airports may be affected periodically through Tuesday when weather patterns are expected to change.

This particular ash release is smaller than the one that forced a six-day shutdown over much of Europe in mid-April, causing massive travel chaos and costing the airline industry $1.7 billion.

But as the no-fly area starts to expand again, frustrations are growing as well.  Ruth Kimbley from Belfast City airport has this advice.

"Please contact your airlines," she said. "Everybody knows how unpredictable the situation can be."

For this passenger in Belfast, this is the second time an ash cloud has forced her to change her plans.

"I was stuck in the last disruptions in America as well, so been there, done that, not really looking forward to it," she said. "But we have got family here so we are in good hands and we have got somewhere to stay so we are okay."  

Aviation experts have learned from the experience of last month.  Jonathan Astill is the head of airspace management at Britain's National Air Traffic Service.  

"Well, the airline companies, the Civil Aviation Authority and ourselves have been working very closely together and we have now come up with a process where the no-fly zone really only covers the area of highest density ash," Astill said. "So we do not allow flights in that airspace, but areas where there is a little ash, but not too much, a flight is permitted.  So, that enables us to keep more flights going and continue with the flights safely."

On the continent, European aviation authorities are looking into the possibility the problem could move into their airspace in the coming days.  German forecasters warn of possible disruptions there from as early as Monday.

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