Ash cloud forces flight delays and cancellations
Plume from Iceland's GrÝmsv÷tn volcano drifts towards UK, prompting BA to cancel flights between London and Scotland
Thousands of air passengers face delays and cancellations as another volcanic ash cloud threatens travel chaos for those flying to and from Scotland, despite hopes there would not be a repeat of last year's mass groundings across Europe.
Although airports remained open on Tuesday, airlines halted hundreds of flights amid safety concerns at the high density of ash caused by the eruption of the GrÝmsv÷tn volcano in Iceland. British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Loganair, Flybe and KLM were among carriers cancelling flights.
However, BMI was still operating out of Edinburgh and Glasgow, saying the ash remained further north than forecast earlier. The airline was constantly reviewing the situation, it said.
There were concerns the cloud would later spread south, affecting flights to northern England and Northern Ireland. Services to and from Derry, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Prestwick, Newcastle, Carlisle, Durham Tees Valley and Cumbernauld airports may be affected by volcanic ash between 1pm and 7pm on Tuesday, air traffic services company Nats said.
Philip Hammond, the English transport secretary, who has promised there will be no blanket airspace closures similar to last year, suggested on BBC's Newsnight on Monday that "we have got to learn to live" with disruption, while insisting there were now "much more robust systems to minimise the disruptive effect".
Since last year's eruption, the authorities had gained a "much better understanding" of the risk from ash clouds, he said. "Most importantly, the basic situation now is that the threshold for most aircraft is 20 times where it was last year. We have got from 200 micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre to 4,000mcg per cubic metre as the threshold up to which most aircraft can fly.
"What we can't promise is that there won't be disruption when there is a major natural event like this."
Hammond will chair a meeting of the government's Cobra committee on the ash cloud later on Tuesday. A government source said the situation remained variable, with the possibility that dense ash will drift over Glasgow and Edinburgh between 1pm and 7pm before clearing. The source added: "These things change from hour to hour."
Mass cancellations at airports on Tuesday by airlines including easyJet and British Airways are viewed as an operational decision as those companies try to ensure their schedules operate more smoothly once the ash clouds clear. According to the latest forecasts, high density ash could begin to affect southern England by Friday.
Under a change in UK-wide policies, airlines can request licences to fly through high ash concentrations providing they make a sufficient safety case.
Under previous guidelines, aircraft were summarily grounded if there was any volcanic ash in the air. Airlines can now fly through ash plumes if they can demonstrate their fleets can handle medium- or high-level densities of ash.
Hammond told BBC's Today programme on Tuesday: "There is some early indication that the scale and power of the eruption might be subsiding.
"Perhaps it's a little bit too early to be absolutely sure about that, but clearly that's the most important thing ľ if the ash stops belching out of the volcano then, after a few days, the problem will have cleared, so that's one of the factors.
"The other is the wind speed and direction. At the moment the weather patterns are very volatile which is what is making it quite difficult, unlike last year, to predict where the ash will go."
Meanwhile, passengers at Glasgow airport were preparing for long delays in reaching some destinations. Elizabeth Flaherty from East Kilbride was hoping to travel to Majorca at 8.30am. She arrived at the airport just before 6am to be told her flight would not be leaving. She said she had been told a coach would take her to Manchester at 12.45pm for a flight at around 5pm.
She said: "It's going to be a long day. I'm trying to stay cheerful. There's nothing else I can do."
Pat Gribbon from Renfrew was due on the same flight for a holiday with his wife, Rita. He said: "Everyone has been very helpful. It's just a question of waiting.
"I suppose it's just one of those things. No one can help it, but it is frustrating. I feel sorry for people with kids."
The Met Office's volcanic ash advisory centre is tracking the cloud, aided by satellite images, weather balloons and a radar installed in Iceland last year. Once information is relayed to airlines, they will need to prove they can fly through them by producing "safety cases" that will include information from aircraft and engine manufacturers on the airline's tolerance to volcanic ash.
Ryanair was seeking an urgent meeting with Irish aviation authorities on Tuesday, saying it had been told late on Monday that it could not operate flights to Scottish destinations until at least Tuesday afternoon. "Ryanair believe that there is no safety risk to aircraft on fights operating to and from Scotland," the company said.
Richard Lloyd, the executive director of Which? magazine, advised passengers to check their insurance as well as flight times. "If you do have a flight booked over the next few days, contact your airline before you go to the airport, and make sure they have your up-to-date contact details."
He added: "If your flight is cancelled or delayed for over five hours, you should be offered a choice of a full refund or transfer to an alternative flight. However, the airlines don't have to compensate passengers for loss of any additional elements to holidays, such as accommodation and car hire.
"It may be possible to claim for these losses on travel insurance, but passengers will need to check their individual policies, many of which may now have specific exclusions built in.
The Grimsv÷tn volcano began erupting at the weekend, causing flight cancellations at Keflavik airport after it sent a plume of ash 12 miles into the air.
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