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Waste and Emissions»Iceland volcano: UK flights grounded for second day

»Friday, April 16,2010

Flights across the UK are to remain grounded for a second day as volcanic ash from Iceland drifts across Europe. At 0830BST, the air traffic control body Nats extended its unprecedented restrictions on UK airspace until at least 0100BST on Saturday.

However, a small number of services will be permitted into and out of Northern Ireland and western Scotland.

The continuing volcanic eruption caused cancellations across Europe amid fears the ash could cause engine failures.

Experts say the tiny particles of rock, glass and sand contained in the ash cloud from the still-erupting volcano could jam aircraft engines, as has happened in previous incidents of planes flying into plumes of volcanic ash.

Nats, which restricted all UK airspace at 1200BST on Thursday, allowed five flights overnight from North America into Belfast, Prestwick and Glasgow airports overnight as gaps in the cloud became apparent.

The Nats update at 0830 said that flights between Northern Ireland and the western isles of Scotland to and from Glasgow and Prestwick would continue until 1900 on Friday, on a case-by-case basis.

North Atlantic traffic to and from Glasgow, Prestwick and Belfast, it added, may also be allowed until then.

A further update is expected at 1430.

Funeral fears

European air traffic control organisation Eurocontrol has said it believes flights could be disrupted into the weekend.

The Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands also closed their airspaces on Thursday and airports were shut in northern France and Germany.

There are fears in Poland that some world leaders will be unable to attend Sunday's state funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed in a plane crash last Saturday.

Eurocontrol spokesman Brian Flynn said a lack of wind meant the ash cloud was "progressing very slowly eastwards" and remained "very dense".

In its statement issued at 0230 BST, Nats said "flights in Northern Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland to and from Glasgow and Prestwick may be allowed in the period from 0100 (UK time) to 1300 (UK time) subject to individual co-ordination".

Nats added: "In general, the situation cannot be said to be improving with any certainty as the forecast affected area appears to be closing in from east to west.

"We continue to work closely with airports, airlines, and the rest of Europe to understand and mitigate the implications of the volcanic eruption."

The extension of restrictions was the second since Friday evening.

So far an estimated 600,000 passengers have been affected in the UK.

Rail and ferry services are reporting rises in their passenger numbers, with ferry operators Stena and Fastnet saying there were significant increases in customers on services departing from Wales.

Eurostar services are also full, with more than 10,000 bookings made on Thursday after the restrictions went into force.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said he was "closely monitoring the situation" and would be meeting key transport officials.

The ash from the volcanic cloud from the Eyjafjallajoekull eruption, which started being detected at ground level on Scotland's Northern Isles on Thursday evening, is expected to move further south.

The Health Protection Agency has stressed the ash does not pose a significant risk to public health.

Early reports from the Shetland islands say that the sky has a light yellow hue as some of the ash returns to Earth, but Health Protection Scotland says only a low concentration of particles is expected to reach the ground.

It advises that some people with respiratory problems may experience short-term effects, but there should be no serious harm.

The Eyjafjallajoekull eruption was the second in Iceland in less than a month.

Volcanologist Thor Thordarsson said if the volcano maintained its current phase of activity, then the eruption could be over in "a few hours or even a few days" meaning the atmosphere would clear shortly afterwards.

But he added: "If the eruption has a phase change and starts to produce lava... then we might be in for a much longer haul, an eruption that might last for months or even years, with a quiet period in between intermittent explosions."

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