Ireland shuts airports Tuesday as threat from Iceland’s volcanic ash drifts south with winds

By Shawn Pogatchnik, AP
Monday, May 3, 2010

Ireland shuts airports Tuesday as ash risk returns

DUBLIN — All flights in and out of Ireland have been canceled Tuesday morning because of the renewed risk of volcanic ash drifting south from Iceland, the Irish Aviation Authority announced Monday.

But experts said they couldn’t tell whether the shifting winds would lead to wider European airspace shutdowns, mirroring last month’s crisis, when more than 100,000 flights were canceled and airlines estimated they lost more than $2 billion in business.

“We cannot really tell what it is going to do,” said University of Iceland geophysicist Pall Einarsson.

Ireland’s airspace managers said all flights from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. (0600GMT to 1200GMT) had to be canceled because of “the safety risks to crews and passengers as a result of the drift south of the volcanic ash cloud caused by the northeasterly winds.”

The airport shutdown affects both the Republic of Ireland and the British territory of Northern Ireland, leaving the island dependent temporarily on ferry links to Britain and France.

Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority also announced a shutdown of air services over Scotland’s outermost Hebrides islands Monday night because of the risk that ash could be ingested into aircrafts’ jet engines. The shutdowns were the first in Britain and Ireland since April 22, a week after the Eyjafjallajokull (pronounced ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl) volcano erupted in Iceland.

However the latest restrictions will not affect airplanes that normally use Irish or British airspace to reach other destinations, because the ash threat exists at much lower altitudes than the cruising altitudes for international flights.

The two major Irish-based airlines, Ryanair and Aer Lingus, announced more than 200 flight cancelations and said they doubted if any Irish services would resume before 2 p.m. (1300GMT). However Aer Lingus said all but one of its trans-Atlantic services to U.S. cities would operate later Tuesday, subject to delays.

Dubliners said they were already braced for potential shutdowns, and expressed relief that the disruption had not fallen on a special three-day weekend that ended Monday.

“Better Tuesday than Monday. We’re all back to work Tuesday anyway,” said Sheila Dawson, 27, a Dublin secretary who had just returned from long weekend in Spain. “Looks like I just made it — although getting trapped in sunny Spain wouldn’t have been so bad either.”

Iceland’s weather forecasting service attributed the resumed threat to Irish airspace to a change in wind direction, not substantially increased emissions of ash.

Icelandic meteorologist Ole Arneson said the Eyjafjallajokull volcano was emitting a slightly higher level of ash Monday than on previous days. He speculated this was because of an increased volume of melted ice, which generates the ash.

“There seems to be a little bit more ash, but the seismic activity is more or less unchanged,” he said.

Last month the volcano unleashed massive plumes of ash that turned much of European airspace into a no-fly zone for a week.

European Union authorities working with jet engine manufacturers eventually established new, more precise measurements for determining whether aircraft could fly safely in ash-affected airspace, which should limit the spread of future shutdowns.

Associated Press Writer Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

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