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New wave of volcanic ash chokes air traffic in Scotland, Ireland

May 5, 2010, Dublin, Ireland _ A new wave of dense volcanic ash from Iceland snarled air traffic Wednesday in Ireland and Scotland, stranding tens of thousands of people and threatening to spill into the air space of England.


May 5, 2010
By Shawn Pogatchnik

Topics

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

May 5, 2010, Dublin, Ireland _ A new wave of dense volcanic ash from Iceland
snarled air traffic Wednesday in Ireland and Scotland, stranding
tens of thousands of people and threatening to spill into the air
space of England.

Ireland's key hub, Dublin Airport, admitted defeat for the day
and cancelled all flights until 4 a.m. Thursday, marooning more than
30,000 passengers in the process.

More than a dozen other airports throughout the Republic of
Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland shut down, too, as unseasonal
winds pushed the engine-wrecking ash southwest back toward the
Atlantic rather than northeast into the unpopulated Arctic.

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The renewed volcanic-ash threat in the skies of Britain and
Ireland this week, following a two-week lull, has tested the more
precise safety rules adopted by European aviation authorities
following the unprecedented April 14-20 closure of most northern
European airspace.

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority said Wednesday's ash threat
might reach northwestern England and Wales but would miss the four
major airports of London.

Authorities are seeking to stop flights only when the ash reaches
certain density levels and gets within 100 kilometres of an
airport's path for landings and takeoffs _ a stark contrast to last
month's closures of air services throughout several countries.

In Scotland, Glasgow Airport shut immediately Wednesday but its
eastern neighbour, Edinburgh, stayed open until midday _ though most
airlines cancelled services there anyway amid widespread confusion.

The Irish Aviation Authority said Dublin should be the country's
first airport to reopen.

The rapidly changing situation obliged would-be fliers to hop on
trains, buses and taxis to reach nearby airports. Virgin Trains also
launched extra services Wednesday between Scotland and London

Market-leading airline Ryanair sought to discourage the
passengers' dashing from airport to airport by announcing blanket
closures Wednesday for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Dublin.

Ryanair also warned customers planning to fly out of several
airports in the west and north of England _ Bristol, Leeds,
Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle _ to check the company's website
and remain alert for possible closure announcements.

But Scotland's leader, First Minister Alex Salmond, slammed the
Civil Aviation Authority for issuing a vague, inaccurate statement
overnight that resulted in unnecessary flight cancellations in
eastern Scotland, including Edinburgh and Aberdeen. He said the CAA
had apologized to him.

“That can't be allowed to happen again. … Press statements
must be clear and not cause confusion,'' Salmond said.

Aviation chiefs in Ireland and Britain said they were updating
their closures and reopenings within minutes of receiving updated
ash maps every six hours from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center in
England.

“The ash plume has been going higher and the ash is of a coarse
nature. That threw our projected opening times into some disarray,''
he said.

Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano began disgorging ash April 13
and has shown no signs of stopping. The glacier-capped volcano last
erupted sporadically from 1821 to 1823.

Travel experts warned that Ireland was particularly vulnerable to
summertime disruption if Eyjafjallajokul doesn't calm down.

“If Iceland has the wrong kind of geology, Ireland has the wrong
kind of geography. It's too close to Iceland and is dependent on air
travel,'' said tourism industry analyst Simon Calder.

Last month European authorities cancelled 100,000 flights
affecting 10 million passengers as they sought to craft a plan for
managing the ash menace. The groundings cost the aviation industry
billions in lost business. European Union rules also require the
airlines to cover the hotel and food expenses of stranded passengers
who stay put to wait out the delays.


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