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Sunday 18 March 2018

New ash cloud threatens to pile on misery for travellers

Treacy Hogan Brendan Farrelly and Grainne Cunningham

A NEW cloud of ash which was earlier today heading towards Ireland threatened more travel chaos.

The cloud spreading down form Iceland was tracking south and east toowards the UK. Projection maps from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in London put the cloud over Ireland at 6am. The latest development came just as the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) had planned to to reinstate some air services on a phased basis this morning after a deal was agreed yesterday by EU transport ministers. But the authority warned earlier that normal services would not resume for up to four days.

Last night the chief executive of the IAA Eamonn Brennan said the new cloud might affect the level of services that would resume today. He advised passengers to check with airlines before leaving for the airport and described the situation as "fluid". Mr Brennan said the volcano had renewed activity and was spewing ash up to about 6km. He added: "Effectively with a wind pattern the situation has closed in again. "I am not as confident for flights aw we were earlier in the day."

Air traffic control company Nats said the situation was worsening in some areas. They said the latest information showed that while more air space over England may become available from 1pm this was not the case as far south as London.

Aer Lingus hope to run a full transatlantic schedule between Ireland and the US today and to also operate flights to Spain, Portugal and Italy up to 1pm.

The airline was due to confirm the status of flights scheduled after 1pm this morning.

With hundreds of thousands of Irish passengers missing flights at home or stranded abroad, airlines face the nightmare of clearing an unprecedented backlog of 6,000 flights.

The three-point deal brokered last night, which signalled a partial lifting of the Europe-wide shutdown, involves a limited no-fly zone around the volcano -- with airlines allowed to operate in areas of low ash contamination. No restrictions will be imposed in unaffected airspace.

The IAA earlier last night had said it expected to reinstate some services on a phased basis from 5am today. But it stressed this was not a full resumption and that "normal operations are not expected to be in place for up to three or four days". The authority said it was up to airports and airlines to decide "how best to use this opportunity".

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey last night said the new arrangement should ease air traffic restrictions.

However, he rejected claims by pilots that that the skies should have re-opened days ago.

The Irish Airline Pilots' Association (IALPA) claimed it should have been possible to resume some flights days ago if authorities had determined safe concentrations of ash.

"It should have been possible to have resumed some level of flying by this stage," IALPA safety director Captain Adrian Hinkson told the Irish Independent. But the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) defended the shutdown, saying it took the decision based on the best safety advice available.


Mr Dempsey insisted he would not support the lifting of flight restrictions unless he was absolutely sure it was safe.

"I would have to take responsibility if something happens and a number of planes crash."

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has welcomed the planned resumption of flights in Europe, but cautioned that the situation could change by the hour.

Mr O'Leary, who has cancelled all Ryanair flights in northern Europe and the Baltic states until 1.00pm on Wednesday, said the crisis had shown the need for better information from safety authorities.

"If the current meteorological information remains good we would expect to be back flying lunchtime Wednesday," he said.

Earlier speaking at the government emergency taskforce briefing, Met Eireann forecaster Ger Fleming said the Eyjafjallajokull glacier volcano had become less active in the past 24 hours.

The height of the ash plume had earlier fallen from a height of 28,000 feet last week to about 10,000 feet yesterday.

"That will have the effect of reducing the extent to which that ash can travel downwind," he said.

Mr Fleming said that while this will result in a shrinking of the ash cloud over Ireland and the UK, it was too early to predict if flights could resume.

Irish Independent

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