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Ireland airports reopen as Iceland volcano ash dissipates, but more may be on the way

Airports in Ireland were shut for about eight hours on Tuesday as winds carried ash from the Icelandic volcano into flight paths. Though travel is now getting back to normal, meteorologists say summer winds could lead to more disruption at European airports.

By Correspondent / May 4, 2010

Passengers wait for flights at Dublin airport, Tuesday. The Irish Aviation Authority grounded flights at all Irish airports Monday, because of a risk to aircraft engines from Iceland's volcano ash.

Peter Morrison/AP

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Dublin

Europeans are bracing themselves for another blast of travel troubles as Icelandic volcano ash clogs up British and Irish airspace once more.

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Airports in the Republic of Ireland were closed for eights hours on Tuesday as prevailing winds once more brought ash from an Iceland volcano closer to the European mainland.

They are now reopened, but the Nordic nation of Iceland is surely vying for the title of most loathed country in Europe.

First, Iceland's economy collapsed, causing financial fallout across the Continent. Then the tiny country of just 300,000 people paralyzed all of Europe when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted, spewing out clouds of volcanic ash that grounded air travel across much of the Continent for a full six days.

Ireland-based pilot and aviation expert Kieran O'Connor says the safety measures were a moral and safety responsibility. “It was no disaster where safety was concerned – if one person had died, that would have been a disaster. I believe the aviation authorities acted very responsibly,” he says.

Mr. O’Connor who is licensed to fly airliners, helicopters, and small planes, runs a flight training school and is a flight examiner for the Irish Aviation Authority.
“It’s an issue of safety where jet and turbo-prop engines are concerned. The density of the ash can shut down those engines,” he says.

Expensive shutdown

The six-day shutdown in April cost the European airline industry an estimated $1.7 billion, according to a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an industry trade group based in Quebec, Canada.

Now Eyjafjallajokull is at it again: flights were grounded Tuesday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Faroe Islands, and parts of Scotland after a new volcanic ash plume drifted south.

An Irish Aviation Authority spokesperson said: “[We] imposed restrictions on all flights in and out of Ireland from 0700 hours local until 1300 hours on Tuesday, 4 May, 2010, due to risk of ash ingestion in aircraft engines.”

Although airspace has now re-opened, there are concerns the situation could recur in the coming months.

Complaining about the changeable weather is a national obsession in Ireland, but the ash cloud’s ability to disrupt modern life has raised the stakes significantly.

After the chaos in mid-April many Europeans are worried their summer holidays will be spoiled by further volcanic activity.

Irish Times travel reporter Rosemary MacCabe was stranded in Spain for four days by the last ash cloud.

"It was as if I was never going to get home,” she said. “Each hour became a day, each day became a week, and the longer I was there, the less Spanish I could speak, the less enthused I was about tapas, the less time I wanted to spend making small talk with tourists when I could have been watching America's Next Top Model at home.”

Ms. MacCabe, who eventually made her way home over land and sea at a cost of over €600 ($785), was visiting Granada for her newspaper.

More ash on way?

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