Fresh travel chaos as new ash cloud hits Irish airspace
TRAVEL chaos looms again for air passengers across Europe after operators, including Aer Lingus, cancelled dozens of flights because of the Icelandic volcanic eruption.
The ash cloud is expected to reach Irish airspace by this morning.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said last night it didn't anticipate any disruption to flights until early tonight.
However, a short time earlier, Aer Lingus cancelled a number of flights to and from the three main Irish airports to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
The ash cloud is forecast to encroach on Scottish airspace early today.
An Aer Lingus spokesman said they would do everything they could to ensure that service to Scotland was resumed as soon as was possible.
A Ryanair spokesman said none of its flights had yet been cancelled and said the eruption was "unlikely to cause any disruption to our European passengers".
He said that, following the experience of the last Icelandic eruption, aviation authorities were following the United States model, which demands a no-fly zone only within 150 miles of the erupting volcano.
A spokesman for the IAA said the situation was being monitored closely and updates would be provided.
Last night, Met Eireann meteorologist Pat Clarke confirmed that a low-to-medium concentration of ash cloud would have reached Irish airspace by this morning.
However, he stressed that weather conditions were markedly different this time, with rapidly changing weather systems now, compared with a static situation last year.
The British Met Office, which has been monitoring the movement of millions of tonnes of ash still spewing out of Grimsvotn, said the whole of Scotland could be engulfed by a thick cloud of debris from 6am, while lower concentrations could affect airspace over northern England and Ireland.
Experts said the plume was drifting at a height of 20,000 to 33,000ft -- the normal altitude for passenger airliners -- and volcanic emissions could reach western France and northern Spanish airspace tomorrow if the eruption continued at its present rate.
Last year's eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano brought the aviation industry in Europe to a virtual standstill.
One hundred thousand flights were cancelled, 10 million passengers were left stranded and the ash cloud cost the industry billions of euro.
The decision to order a blanket closure of European airspace was fiercely criticised by many airlines, who believed officials had overestimated the danger.
"I think the regulators are a bit more sensible than they were last year," said Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair.
"We would be cautiously optimistic that they won't balls it up again this year."
Philip Hammond, the UK's Transport Secretary, said the situation was being closely monitored.
"Clearly, this is a natural phenomenon that we cannot control, but the UK is now much better prepared to deal with an ash eruption than last year," he said.
Rochelle Turner, head of research for Which? Travel, said last year, airlines had been taken by surprise.
"Hopefully disruption will be minimal, but airlines will have no excuse if they fail to act quickly to inform passengers of delays and cancellations, or to provide the necessary assistance," she added.