Britain warns ash cloud set to disrupt flights

23rd May 2011, Comments 0 comments

British authorities warned that a cloud of ash spewed out by an Icelandic volcano will hit Scotland on Monday, with services likely to be affected at three small airports.

The ash from the Grimsvoetn volcano is expected to reach Scottish airspace between 1700 GMT and 2300 GMT, following information from forecasters the Met Office, said the British air traffic control operator NATS.

It said British airports would remain open but "some services may be affected" at the tiny Barra, Benbecula and Tiree airports in the Hebrides islands off the northwestern Scottish coast.

Separately, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said in a statement that "disruption to aviation couldn't be ruled out" after Grimsvoetn began its most powerful eruption in more than a century.

"Our number one priority is to ensure the safety of people both onboard aircraft and on the ground," Andrew Haines, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, said in a statement.

"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."

Two days into the eruption of Grimsvoetn, there are fears of a repeat of the situation a year ago when Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano closed most of Europe's airspace in the worst disruption to air travel since World War II.

The arrival of the ash on British shores comes just as US President Barack Obama heads to Britain from Ireland.

"Ash is likely to reach parts of northern and western Scotland overnight tonight and early tomorrow," a spokeswoman for the Met Office told AFP.

"How this affects flight routing will be determined by the CAA and NATS together with individual airlines."

The spokeswoman said other parts of Britain could see some ash later in the week "but there is a lot of uncertainty. It could be an unsettled week with strong winds."

Obama is set to fly to London on Tuesday as part of a six-day European tour of four countries. After his state visit to Britain he is due to fly to France on Thursday.

The CAA said that since last year's crisis it had brought in new measures, including that areas of high, medium and low density ash will be identified using data from the Met Office.

Instead of a blanket ban on flights, British airlines wishing to operate in high or medium density ash will now have to have a safety request approved by the CAA.

The request sets out measures airlines will take to reduce the risk of flying through ash.

"None has so far submitted a safety case to operate in high density ash," it said.

© 2011 AFP

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