Volcanic ash closes UK airports

The ash cloud on a weather model

Airports across much of the UK are to close between 1300 and 1900 BST as volcanic ash drifts across Europe, the air traffic authority Nats has said.

In England, East Midlands, Manchester, Liverpool, Doncaster, Humberside and Carlisle airports will be hit by the Civil Aviation Authority’s no-fly zone.

Airports in Northern Ireland, Prestwick near Glasgow, those on Scottish islands and the Isle of Man are also affected.

London airports are unaffected, while Dublin remains open on Sunday.

Planes have been grounded in other parts of the Irish Republic. Travellers are being advised to check with their airline before leaving home.

Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland

The UK no-fly zones are set out by the Civil Aviation Authority using Met Office data. Forecasts suggest the ash cloud could extend further over the UK during Monday and Tuesday.

Nats’ Jonathan Astill said: "Unfortunately, yet again, a mixture of volcanic activity and weather systems have conspired to bring a cloud of ash down towards the UK."

The cloud is expected to lie over the London area by Tuesday, but is likely to have drifted out of UK airspace by Wednesday, forecasters predict.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the situation was "fluid" but passenger safety was the top priority.

Prof Brian Golding, head of forecasting research at the Met Office, said the cloud stemmed from an eruption on Thursday.

"The volcano has now dropped back in height. It did that yesterday, so the ash coming towards us for the future isn’t quite so deep as it was on Thursday.

Airline fined

"It isn’t going to turn into a huge area and it’s being blown eastwards, between south-east and east. "

Ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano has caused disruption to thousands of flights since April.

Meanwhile, Italy has fined Irish airline Ryanair 3m euros (£2.5m) for failing to help some passengers after cancelling their flights during the crisis.

Ministers agreed on Saturday that the five-day forecasts, rather than 18-hour ones, would be made available on the Met Office website.

The Met Office said its charts would be updated every six hours but that the wind was expected to change direction in the middle of next week, taking ash away from the UK.

Scottish transport minister Stewart Stevenson called upon airlines to be "consistent" to "avoid unnecessary and unhelpful confusion".

He said he had written to BA chief executive Willie Walsh after the airline cancelled three flights to Scotland on Friday. BA said the flights were cancelled as a "precaution".

Molten glass

BA is facing industrial action in the coming days, potentially adding to travel disruption.

Meanwhile, Network Rail said it was boosting services to and from Scotland, and to Irish Sea ports, with engineering works postponed where necessary.

Dr Dougal Jerram, a volcanologist from Durham University, warned the last big eruption of Eyjafjallajokull – in the 1820s – went on for about two years, and its current eruption could last "several months".

But he said the continued eruptions would not necessarily cause more problems to air travel, as a number of factors – explosive eruptions, a concentrated plume and certain weather patterns – needed to be in place at the same time to create "the perfect storm".

In April, airspace across Europe was shut down for five days over concerns ash could turn to molten glass in high temperatures, crippling plane engines.

Scientists and engineers have since revised the safe-to-fly threshold, but clouds of volcanic ash have continued to drift over Europe, causing airport closures, flight delays and cancellations.

In the past week, several airports in southern Europe have been forced to close and flights have been re-routed.

Italy’s civil aviation authority fine on Ryanair comes after it said it knew of 178 cases of passengers who did not receive mandatory assistance, such as food – required under EU regulations – between 17 and 22 April. Ryanair called the allegation "complete rubbish".

Are your travel plans likely to be affected by the latest anticipated disruptions? Are you travelling from an airport in the south-east of England between Sunday and Tuesday? Will you make alternative travel plans? Send us your comments Click here to add comments..

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