British airspace closures likely from Sunday: ministry

15th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

British airspace is likely to face partial closures from Sunday due to a return of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud, the Department for Transport warned.

The disruption could last until Tuesday and could affect Britain's main airports around London, the ministry said Saturday.

"Due to continuing volcanic activity in Iceland and prevailing weather conditions, there is -- if the volcano continues to erupt at current levels -- a risk of UK airspace closures early next week," the DfT said in a statement.

"On current predictions, closures could begin as early as Sunday and are likely to last until Tuesday morning.

"Within this timeframe, different parts of UK airspace -- including airspace in the southeast -- are likely to be closed at different times."

"However, the predictions remain fluid and air passengers are advised to check with their airlines before taking any further action."

Europe's skies were shut for up to a week last month following the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano, in the biggest shutdown of the continent's airspace since World War II.

The volcanic ash, which can cause serious damage to jet engines, has continued to cause smaller disruptions in certain parts of Europe depending on the prevailing winds.

London Heathrow Airport is Europe's busiest, while London Gatwick and London Stansted are within the top 15.

The National Air Traffic Services, which manages British airspace, said there were no current restrictions.

"We are maintaining a close dialogue with the Met Office and the Civil Aviation Authority who impose the no-fly zones, and with that data we issue further notices as required," a spokeswoman told AFP.

"We won't do that until we've got accurate information from those two parties."

Britain's Met Office national weather service said in its 1209 GMT Icelandic volcano blog update, that it "continues to erupt with the plume estimated to be reaching a height of around 20,000 feet (six kilometres).

"The latest emissions are currently drifting southwestwards from the volcano but are likely to head back towards Northern Ireland overnight and tomorrow morning."

The warning over airspace closures came as Britain's new Transport Secretary Philip Hammond announced the Met Office would now publish five-day ash prediction charts rather than the previous 18-hour forecasts.

"We want airlines, other transport providers and the public to have the best possible information. However, the situation remains fluid and these forecasts are always liable to change," he said.

"The government is carefully monitoring this situation and the safety of passengers will remain our paramount concern."

© 2010 AFP

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