Ireland, Britain reopen skies after new ash alert

4th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Ireland and Britain lifted flight restrictions Tuesday after temporarily closing airspace due to the return of ash from an Icelandic volcano which paralysed Europe's skies last month.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and Britain's National Air Traffic Services (NATS) cleared flights to resume from 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) after a suspension since late Monday over northwest Scotland and 0600 GMT in Ireland.

But the ban prevented thousands of travellers from flying -- including the Irish transport minister who was due in Brussels for EU talks on last month's chaos -- while the IAA warned of possible further disruption later this week.

"The IAA has cleared Irish airports to open for full operations," it said in a statement, adding: "We expect operations to be normal at all Irish airports for the rest of today."

But it added: "The situation will be reviewed as the week goes on. Winds are forecast to continue coming from a northerly direction for the next few days and this could lead to further problems."

As well as the Irish closure, Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also announced the suspension of flights overnight above Northern Ireland and the Outer Hebrides, a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland.

But NATS later said it expected the ban to be lifted from 1200 GMT, "with the exception of a very small no-fly zone identified by the CAA in the northwest corner of UK airspace.

"This no-fly zone is not expected to have any impact on UK operations," NATS said in midday update on its website.

Airspace across Europe was closed down for up to a week last month after the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull, but was re-opened after emergency talks between European governments, airlines and regulators.

In Reykjavik, experts said the new airport closures were due to a small, temporary hike in ash from the volcano at the weekend along with a change in wind direction.

"The ash plume temporarily increased a little on Sunday, but now it has decreased," Bryndis Brandsdottir, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, told AFP.

The new alerts did not disrupt aircraft flying over Ireland from Britain or Europe, or southern British airports including Heathrow, Europe's busiest air hub, authorities in the two countries said.

But they triggered the cancellation of hundreds of flights in and out of Ireland and Northern Ireland, bringing fresh chaos to thousands of people.

One victim of the ban was Ireland's Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, who had to cancel a trip to Brussels for talks with his European Union counterparts on the recent ash cloud travel chaos.

Heathrow said that around 20 flights to and from the west London airport had been cancelled this morning.

"We are asking passengers to check with their airlines before coming to the airport," said a Heathrow spokeswoman.

Budget Irish carrier Ryanair said it had cancelled all flights into and out of Ireland between 0500 GMT and 1300 GMT Tuesday.

Meanwhile Irish airline Aer Lingus said the flight ban last month had cost it about 20 million euros (26 million dollars), while warning that "the final cost will depend on the actual level of customer claims."

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.

© 2010 AFP

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