Saturday 3 December 2016

Open the skies, Ryanair chief urges authorities

Rosemary O’Grady

Published 24/05/2011 | 16:09

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary believes that "the sky should be immediately re-opened and planes allowed to fly".

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He described the information from the Met Office in relation to the erupting Icelandic volcano as completely “duff”.

Mr O'Leary said Ryanair had undertaken a test flight and flown at 41,000 feet for an hour and a half over Scotland landing at Prestwick and found no evidence of any volcanic ash material whatsoever. No dust or cloud was found on the airframe, the engine or the wings - not even the lowest level of ash was found.

Ryanair insist that the airframe and engine manufacturers have given them written confirmation to submit to the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK in an attempt to allow the airline to go ahead and fly.

Mr O'Leary went on to say that obviously he is not advocating flying near the 190km “no fly” zone of the volcano. However after the situation last year it was agreed with both the CAA and IAA that airlines could operate outside that radius and carry out comprehensive inspections after landing.

Declan Kearney from Aer Lingus stated that some 20 flights had been affected by the ash cloud today between Ireland and Scotland.

One return flight went ahead to Edinburgh at lunch time today as the dust cloud was expected to be very low, but all other flights between Ireland and Scotland had been cancelled until further notice.

“Aer Lingus decide if we fly or not,” stated Mr Kearney. Aer Lingus consult with all the relevant aviation authorities and based on information they provide operational safety decisions are taken. “We take the advice given to us by the aviation experts,”' he said.

Both Ryanair and Aer Lingus are advising passengers to check on the web sites and keep abreast of national broadcast media for further information regarding flights to Scotland.

Aer Lingus today cancelled 20 flights to and from Irish airports to Scottish airports, while Ryanair cancelled some 36 flights, affecting two flights this morning between Dublin and Scotland.

Iceland's most active volcano, Grimsvotn, started erupting on Saturday, sending a plume of white smoke miles high into the atmosphere.

Met Eireann meteorologist Pat Clarke stressed that weather conditions were markedly different this time to the last Icelandic eruption, 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, while lower concentrations could affect airspace over northern England and Ireland.

Plume

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.

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