Volcanic ash causes massive disruption to airports

Thousands of passengers at Irish, UK and European airports have been grounded after the eruption of a volcano in Iceland sent a cloud of ash into airspace across northern Europe, halting flights.

UK aviation authorities have closed a number of airports in Scotland and northern England, and both airports in Belfast have also been closed. The ash cloud is forecast to spread southwards towards London during today, causing major disruption.

Flights in Norway and other parts of northern Europe have also been disrupted.

Aer Lingus has issued a statement saying there will be major disruption to its flights from Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Belfast, London Gatwick today.

Ryanair has cancelled all flights to and from the UK, a statement on their website reads: “Ryanair confirms that no further Ryanair flights will operate to or from the UK today (Thursday 15th April ’10) from 09:00.”

British Airways has cancelled all internal UK flights for the whole of today.

The advice to anyone expecting to travel by air today is to check with their airline to see if they are affected.

Forecasters believe the ash could take a number of days to disperse.

Volcanic ash, which consists of the pulverised rock and glass created by the eruptions, can jam aircraft machinery if a plane flies through the plume, shutting down the engines.

Ash can also be can be sucked into the cabin itself, contaminating the passengers’ environment as well as damaging the plane’s electronic systems.

A spokeswoman for easyJet, which has cancelled dozens of flights at Luton and Scottish airports, said: “Following the eruption of a volcano in Iceland yesterday, an ash plume has entered UK and Scandinavian airspace overnight.

“As a result NATS have closed parts of UK airspace and this is causing significant disruption to all airlines due to operate flights to and from the UK today.

“EasyJet passengers are advised to check the website before they leave for the airport for any disruption information.”

Heathrow’s second biggest scheduled airline, bmi, has cancelled all flights between London and Scotland until later today. It said: “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.”

Matt Dobson, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: “The concern is that as well as the eruption, the jet stream passing through Iceland is passing in a south easterly direction, which will bring ash to the north of Scotland and Denmark and Norway. But it is impossible to say how much ash will come down.

“It could be a threat in these areas from now until tomorrow or Friday.”

A spokesman from Nats said: “The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre has issued a forecast that the ash cloud from the volcanic eruption in Iceland will track over Europe tonight.

“NATS is working with Eurocontrol and our colleagues in Europe’s other air navigation service providers to take the appropriate action to ensure safety in accordance with international aviation policy.”

Weather forecasters said the ash plume could drift over British airspace during the night, causing significant disruption to services.

The movement of the plume, which has been drifting eastwards, is being monitored by both the Met Office and NATS, the air traffic control service.

There have been a number of incidents where aircraft have reported damage from ash, including one involving a British Airways Boeing 747 in June 1982.

The aircraft ran into difficulties after the eruption of a volcano at Galunggung, Indonesia. Ash jammed all four engines briefly, and the aircraft plummeted 24,000 feet before they could be restarted.

Because of the threat to aviation, a global early warning system, known as the International Airways Volcano Watch, has been established. Iceland is considered as particularly vulnerable to volcanic disruption.

Authorities there yesterday evacuated 800 residents from around the Eyjafjallajokull glacier as water gushed down the mountainside and rivers rose by up to 10 feet (3 meters).

The Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted for the first time in 200 years on March 20, in a dramatic display that sent fountains of lava spewing into the air.

The first eruption did not trigger any major flooding, as was initially feared, because the active vents were in a mainly ice-free part of the volcano.

But Tuesday’s eruption came from a different vent beneath a 650-ft (200m) thick block of ice, unleashing a torrent of glacial meltwater.