Volcanic Ash Closes Irish, UK Airports; Summer Chaos Feared

By Andras Gergely | May 4, 2010

Airports in Ireland and parts of Britain were closed again for some hours on Tuesday because of the cloud of volcanic ash drifting south from Iceland that wreaked havoc on European air travel last month.

Flights in much of continental Europe were operating as normal and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said it would allow flights to resume from Irish airports from 1200 GMT after a closure lasting six hours.

However, the IAA said northerly winds forecast for the coming days could bring more clouds of ash from the Icelandic eruption and disruption for passengers this week. “We could be faced with this periodically during the summer,” IAA Chief Executive Eamonn Brennan said. “We are probably facing a summer of uncertainty due to this ash cloud,” he added.

The IAA had closed airports from 0600 GMT until 1200 GMT due to risk of ash ingestion in aircraft engines, although over flights of Ireland from Britain and continental Europe had not been banned.

The UK’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) said a no-fly zone was in place in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland, from 0700 a.m. (0600 GMT) until at least 1300 (1200 GMT).

European flights overall were expected to be at almost normal levels on Tuesday, European air traffic agency Eurocontrol said.

On a typical weekday, just under 200 flights would be expected in and out of Ireland, compared with around 28,000 throughout Europe, a spokeswoman said.

EARNINGS HIT
Much of European air traffic was grounded last month because of the spread of ash from an erupting volcano in Iceland.

The air space closures cost Europe’s airlines €1.5 billion to €2.5 billion ($2 billion-$3.3 billion), the European Commission has estimated.

Former Irish state airline Aer Lingus said last month’s closures lasting several days cut its earnings by about €20 million ($27 million), with the final bill dependent on the impact on passengers’ longer-term travel plans.

Shares in Aer Lingus, which also separately reported encouraging first-quarter trading on Tuesday, dropped 1.4 percent by 0909 GMT, while Ryanair, which is much less dependent on the Irish market, dropped 0.9 percent.

Airlines Air France-KLM, British Airways, Iberia and Lufthansa were between 1.7 and 3.7 percent weaker, in a lower overall market.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden and Caroline Copley in London, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Maria Sheahan in Frankfurt; editing by David Stamp)

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