Northern Ireland air travellers will wake up this morning desperate to know whether Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud will continue to spoil their plans after a ban on flying in the province’s airspace was extended until 7am today.
The National Air Traffic Services last night extended the no-fly zone from 1am-7am. A spokesman said the ash cloud was “dynamic”.
“It continues to change shape and the situation may change again,” he said.
Airports urged would-be travellers to check their airlines for information about whether flights would take off. Airspace over Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland was closed for most of yesterday when plumes of the ash cloud were wafted in by the wind.
A spokesman for the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, which makes decisions on whether planes can fly, said it was “under no illusion” that there could be further disruption to come.
Just eight planes carried 1,500 people in and out of Belfast International yesterday, instead of the usual 25,000, while George Best Belfast City was reduced to flying around 300 passengers on 13 flights, instead of its usual 10,000.
But despite the inactivity at Northern Ireland’s three airports, most others in the UK continued to operate as normal. Manchester, just 168 miles from Belfast, was operating normally.
In contrast to Northern Ireland’s three airports, which handled around 2,000 passengers in total, a spokesman said Manchester had welcomed its usual daily May-time traffic of 50,000.
A spokesman for the CAA said it carried a flight test yesterday which had led to the decision to shut down Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland — although Edinburgh Airport reopened last night at 7pm.
The closure of Northern Ireland’s airspace was “down to the weather,” the CAA spokesman said yesterday afternoon.
“Parts of the UK are subject to weather patterns and at the moment, prevailing winds are taking plumes of ash over parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland.
“Met Office forecasts are that the plumes will start moving west again, over the Atlantic, so we are pretty confident most airspace will be open again.”
And of the future: “It depends really on the volcano continuing to erupt and on weather patterns, so we can’t really predict what will happen.”
As for why other UK airports were not disrupted, he said: “The wind hasn’t been strong enough. It all depends on wind speeds, air pressure and that kind of thing. When we had the situation at first two weeks ago it was very calm weather for several days, so the cloud didn’t really move much.
“We are in the hands of the volcanologists. These things can go on and on. We are under no illusion that this is the last ash we are going to see — though of course we hope it is.”
The British Geological Survey warned that although not as severe as April, the activity from Eyjafjallajokull is increasing, resulting in more ash.
Dr Kathryn Goodenough said the volcano would continue to erupt for “months”, and no-fly zones across Ireland and Europe will become a feature of travelling.
“This is nothing unusual,” she said. “By Icelandic standards it's small to moderate.”
George Best Belfast City Airport was deserted last night. Instead of the usual hustle and bustle of an airport, it seemed most would-be passengers had heeded advice to check with their airlines about whether flights would leave.