Air passengers across Northern Ireland are facing another day of uncertainty after warnings last night that a new ash cloud was spreading towards the UK.
Air traffic control organisation Nats said the “situation was worsening” in some areas — casting doubt on this morning’s planned reopening of Northern Irish airspace.
The outlook for Northern Ireland is most uncertain, the company said last night.
“The volcano eruption in Iceland has strengthened and a new ash cloud is spreading south and east towards the UK,” it said.
“This demonstrates the dynamic and rapidly changing conditions in which we are working.
“Latest information from the Met Office shows that the situation is worsening in some areas.
“Based on this information, the situation for Northern Irish airports for the morning is uncertain, due to the new ash cloud.”
Northern Irish airspace was expected to reopen at 7am, with planes due to fly out of the International, Belfast City and City of Derry airports.
Last night, a spokesman for Belfast City Airport said they were still intending to proceed with flights today.
Yesterday, most flights to and from Northern Ireland were cancelled for a fifth day, leaving planes grounded and passengers still stranded.
There were also warnings that the crisis could threaten the |existence of some airlines.
Transport minister Conor Murphy said the shutdown because of volcanic ash will not have been budgeted for by some operators.
“I am sure most airlines are operating on fairly tight budgets, the shutdown won't have been budgeted for in the financial plan of the airline,” he said.
“I would not be surprised if some of them are suffering financially as a consequence and it may well threaten the existence of some of them.”
Prior to last night’s fresh ash cloud, Flybe said it would be restarting certain routes, with the
first flight due to take off from George Best Belfast City Airport heading to Edinburgh at 10.05am.
Some flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Newcastle were also scheduled to resume today.
The chief executive of Belfast City Airport, Brian Ambrose, said he expected a “phased reintroduction” of flights over the next 24 hours, with a “much fuller” programme tomorrow.
“We normally have over 100 flights a day and at the minute less than 20% of that has been confirmed for Tuesday,” he said.
“However, when you consider that an average day is about 8,000 to 9,000 passengers and we had 47 on Saturday, it is a giant step forward.”
Mr Ambrose said the past five days have been unprecedented for the industry and estimates the economic cost to the airport could run into several hundred thousand pounds. “For a small airport of this size, it will be six figures and substantial,” he added.
Belfast International Airport confirmed that it will also be open from 7am this morning, in line with advice given by Nats.
In a statement, the airport said a return to normal flying schedules would depend upon where aircraft and crews are currently located. “On this basis, it is likely that it would take several days for a controlled resumption of business to take place,” it said.
Translink said it has put in place extra coaches to take passengers to and from the ferry ports.
Stena Line also reported a record demand.
The lockdown has left millions stranded, but the Consumer Council in Northern Ireland said that people were entitled to refunds.
“Passengers who are stranded and cannot get home are entitled to overnight accommodation, meals and phone calls for the duration of the disruption,” said spokesman Aodhan O’Donnell.
Those affected have been told to keep hold of receipts.
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