Tuesday 20 August 2019

Irish airspace closed due to volcanic ash

The flight information board at Dublin Airport today. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
The flight information board at Dublin Airport today. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Passengers at Dublin Airport this morning wait for information on their flights. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
The ash cloud billows from the volcano near the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland. Photo: Reuters

Irish airspace has been closed today as ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland spread across northern Europe, grounding flights and disrupting thousands of passengers.

Aer Lingus said it had been informed by the Irish Aviation Authority that no flights would be allowed in and out of the country from 12 noon to 8pm, forcing stranded passengers to make alternative arrangements.

The carrier axed more than 40 flights in and out of Dublin, Cork and Shannon while Ryanair said no further flights will be operating to or from the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden or Denmark.

A spokeswoman for Dublin Airport said she had never witnessed such an incident in her career.

"This is very much out of everyone's control," she said.

"I'm in the airport 26 years and I've never come across this situation. It is highly unusual. It poses a serious threat to aircraft.

"I'm sure passengers will appreciate the seriousness of it and will not want to fly in unsafe conditions."

Significant queues formed at airline desks at Dublin Airport as passengers tried to get more information on the status of their flights.

British Midland International (bmi) cancelled two flights from Dublin to London Heathrow, with passengers advised they will be reaccommodated as soon as possible.

A spokesman said: "Safety is our number one priority and based on advice from the UK Met Office and Air Traffic Control any flights that pass through affected airspace have been cancelled. All airlines are affected by this unavoidable issue.

"We recommend that customers whose journey is not essential book for an alternate date. Customers who have booked and are still intending to travel should consult the flight status page for the latest information."

But the disruption to flights has sparked a demand for sea travel, with Irish Ferries reporting an increase in bookings and a surge in visits to its website for services today and tomorrow from both foot passengers and motorists.

Declan Mescall, head of passenger sales, said the mid-afternoon Dublin Swift sailing to Holyhead was almost full.

"The phones are absolutely hopping off the desk," he said.

"It's mainly foot passengers because people haven't had time to go out and get their car.

"Its just been a phenomenal increase in last minute bookings, it's just exceptional, anything like this level of activity within an hour of opening."

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) confirmed it had ordered sections of airspace to shut down from midday following advice from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre.

"It is not safe for aircraft to fly into volcanic dust as it can cause engines to shut down and other electrical faults," the IAA said.

"The volcanic ash cloud is also causing severe restriction in UK airspace."

Aviation chiefs said they were closely monitoring the situation and would provide an update at midday.

Passengers have been advised to check for information on airline websites

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