About 250 flights to northern Britain were canceled yesterday over concerns about the ash cloud spewing from an Icelandic volcano, but British and Irish officials dismissed fears of a mass shutdown of airspace.
The eruption of Grimsvotn volcano has raised worries of a repeat of the volcano-related travel chaos that stranded 10 million passengers and cost the air industry an estimated US$1.7 billion in lost revenue last year.
Airline officials have said changes to rules on how airlines and civil aviation authorities decide on the risks of flying should have the effect of reducing disruptions to travel compared with last year.
However, European air traffic agency Eurocontrol said 250 flights had been canceled in British airspace as the ash cloud has drifted lower from Iceland.
US President Barack Obama left Ireland for Britain late on Monday ahead of schedule and Barcelona soccer coach Pep Guardiola said he would come to London early for Saturday’s Champions League final against Manchester United.
However, officials rejected the idea of a general flight ban.
“There won’t be any shutdowns,” British Transport Secretary Philip Hammond told BBC radio. “We’ve moved on to a different way of working, we won’t be closing airspace.”
“Even though there will be ash present over large parts of the UK for parts of this week, that will not stop flying activity,” Hammond said.
Eurocontrol has said that if the volcanic emissions continued at the same rate, the cloud could reach western French and northern Spanish airspace tomorrow. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to host Obama and other G8 leaders in northern France this week.
The Irish Aviation Authority also said it would not shut any airports, but Ryanair, which listed 36 cancelations between Scotland and cities across Europe, said the Irish authority had stopped it flying to Scottish airports until at least 1pm.
Ryanair yesterday flew a plane through Scottish airspace -regulators say has “high ash concentration” in a bid to show there was no danger from a volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Ryanair operated a one-hour verification flight at 12,500m yesterday morning from Glasgow to Inverness to Aberdeen and on to Edinburgh through areas it said the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had designated a “red zone” of high ash concentration.
“There was no visible volcanic ash cloud or any other presence of volcanic ash and the post flight inspection revealed no evidence of volcanic ash on the airframe, wings or engines,” Ryanair said in a statement. “Ryanair’s verification flight this morning also confirms that the ‘red zone’ over Scotland is non-existent.”
Ryanair said it had received written confirmation from both its airframe and engine manufacturers that it was safe to operate in areas designated “red zones.”
“You have to ask why a combination of bureaucratic incompetence in the CAA and the Met Office last night shut the skies over Scotland when this morning we have now confirmed there is no volcanic ash material in the atmosphere over Scotland,” Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary told BBC television. “The Met Office produces these nonsensical forecasts of where this mythical ash cloud was going to go.”
“Two thousand kilometers south of Iceland there is almost no presence of volcanic ash in the atmosphere because it is dissipating,” he said.