Ash cloud forces US troops to abandon Shannon stopovers
THE volcanic ash clouds have achieved what anti-war protesters could not -- they've stopped US troops passing through Shannon Airport.
It emerged yesterday that the sole carrier of US troops using Shannon, Omni Air, is relocating its transit base to Oslo in response to the disruption caused by the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokul.
The decision to divert US troops from the airport until further notice has had an immediate economic impact on the Midwest.
It came as the latest medium- range wind forecast charts and other data indicated there should be little risk of disruption to flights over Ireland tomorrow and this weekend.
Met Eireann said: "The prospects for early next week look promising also, but if the volcano becomes more active that might change."
Shannon-based catering firm EFG yesterday confirmed that it is to let go of 30 of its 75 staff on a temporary basis as a result of the decision to divert US troop flights to Oslo.
EFG managing director Ean Malone said providing in-flight meals to Omni Air accounted for around 35pc of its revenues.
"It is a significant part of our business and nobody can put a timeframe on how long Omni Air will be out of Shannon. But they are happy with us and happy with the airport," he said.
On average, Omni Air was operating two to three flights per day through Shannon.
Prior to the disruption caused by the volcano, about 20,000 troops were going through Shannon each month this year.
After the initial disruption caused by the volcano last month, Omni Air relocated its base to Portugal. But the company established its Oslo base when the ash cloud disrupted flights over the Iberian peninsula last week.
Mr Malone said Omni Air would have a crew of between 50 and 80 people based at Shannon as part of their operation.
More than 1.5 million US troops have passed through Shannon over the past decade.
"It is something that is beyond our control with the volcanic ash cloud," a spokeswoman for Shannon Airport said. "The airline has told us that they will be coming back. We just don't know when at this time."
However, Dr Ed Horgan -- a retired army commandant, former UN peacekeeper, human-rights activist and a long-time opponent of US troops passing through Shannon -- said he hoped the move would "become permanent as soon as possible".
Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that as many as 530,000 Irish passengers couldn't board more than 4,700 flights over the past month because of the ash crisis.
As airports return to normal, for the time being at least, the Irish Aviation Authority yesterday revealed the full effect the recession and the ash cloud crisis was having on domestic airports.
Air traffic at Dublin was down 26.8pc, Cork was down 25.3pc while Shannon recorded a massive 57.1pc drop.
Experts last night warned European airports to brace themselves for a summer of sudden flight disruptions caused by the Icelandic volcano.
Air-control authorities and geologists believe there are likely to be more cancellations during the summer as computerised projections try to pinpoint where the ash clouds will travel in coming weeks and months.
Jose Luis Barrera, deputy president of Spain's College of Geologists, said Europe should get ready for ash-covered inconvenience through the summer.