Volcanic Ash Clouds Close European Airports, Again
Just over a month after the first ash clouds from Iceland’s erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano are once again playing havoc with air travel in parts of Europe:
Thousands of passengers were facing further travel chaos today as a new ash cloud covered large parts of the UK and forced the closure of a number of airports in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.
Northwesterly winds have pushed a high-density ash cloud over the UK, making it unsafe to fly and forcing the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to close large parts of UK airspace.
Airports in Northern Ireland have been affected since early this morning. By 11am the CAA had extended its no-fly zone to a number of airports on the west coast of the UK.
Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds Bradford, East Midlands and Glasgow Prestwick airports have all been forced to close
As with the last round of closings, which many experts later said were entirely unnecessary, the airline industry is protesting what seems to many to be an overly cautious stance by authorities:
Sir Richard Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic, said today that the Manchester closure was “beyond a joke” and that there was no evidence that aircraft could not continue to fly safely.
“All the test flights by airlines, aircraft and engine manufacturers have shown no evidence that airlines could not continue to fly completely safely,” he said. “Over a thousand flights took off from France last week in similar conditions to that which exist in Manchester today without encountering any problems or showing any levels of ash concentration.
“We need strong leadership to intervene to avoid doing further unnecessary damage to the UK economy and lives of travellers
Given the fact that scientists are saying that these eruptions, and the resulting ash clouds, could continue for decades, it would seem that would we really need is a definitive answer to the question of what risk they pose to international air travel. When you’re dealing with an unknown, temporary phenomenon, it makes sense to play it safe, but if these ash clouds are going to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, Europe is going to need a better solution than just closing the airports at the first sign of an ash cloud.