Ash cloud restrictions eased by smaller no-fly zone
AVIATION chiefs are hoping the smaller no-fly zones will allow airspace to remain open when volcanic ash returns towards the end of this week.
But the crisis caused by eruptions in Iceland could last for another two years, it was learned yesterday. And a fresh row erupted over whether smaller no-fly zones could have been introduced earlier, reducing disruption for passengers and the cost for airlines.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said it hoped the smaller no-fly zones introduced yesterday would enable airlines to re-route flights around the ash plume by the of end of the week. It would also allow aircraft to fly closer to ash cloud.
The authority said it looked likely that the plume would push down to Ireland "towards the back end of the week".
Some research indicated that the ash problem could last for two years, the IAA spokesperson added. The IAA rejected claims by some airline chiefs, including Ryanair's Michael O'Leary, that the new zones showed there was no need to shut down airspace earlier this week.
An IAA spokesperson said: "We would not agree with this. Public safety is our first priority. When the ash crisis started we did not have the data."
The new Time Limited Zone will allow airlines to resume a more normal schedule because they can now operate in all but the densest ash clouds.
Labour's transport spokes- man Tommy Broughan called on Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to clarify the new safety zones because of the huge safety issues at stake.
Extensive research and data from airlines, test flights, reports from aircraft manufacturers, and information gathered by aviation and meteorological authorities over the past three weeks provided sufficient evidence for new safety zones to be introduced.
The agreement on updating the safety zones in Ireland and the UK follows 300,000 hours of airline operations since the volcano erupted.
Test flights were carried out in Ireland, France, Iceland and the UK.
British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh was among airline bosses highly critical of the UK Met Office forecasting which led the Civil Aviation Authority to impose some no-fly zones in the UK on Monday.
Virgin Atlantic boss Richard Branson said the restrictions were "unforgivable" and authorities dealing with the crisis had made "crass, stupid decisions".
He said he didn't mind paying millions of pounds to passengers caught up in disruption if there was a good reason for delays and cancellations. He added: "This, though, is money down the drain. The situation has weakened our airline and upset our passengers."
air chaos was UNnecessary: comment, page 27