Iceland's volcanic ash over Britain could be gone tomorrow – but back Friday

Experts suggest that the volcanic ash from Iceland's Grímsvötn could once again snarl British air traffic later this week.

Scott Heppell/AP
Passengers rest on the floor as their flights have been canceled at Edinburgh Airport Tuesday. A dense ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano blew toward Scotland, causing airlines to cancel Tuesday flights and raising fears of a repeat of last year's huge travel disruptions in Europe that stranded millions of passengers.

British airspace is expected to return to normal tomorrow as the ash cloud caused by Iceland’s Grímsvötn volcano drifts away. But experts say conditions over the United Kingdom are likely to deteriorate again by week's end.

The latest report from the Met Office, Britain's weather forecaster, predicts that dense ash will return Friday, covering the whole of the UK. That would almost certainly mean every flight in and out of the UK will be grounded.

Much will depend on weather patterns and the power of the volcano, which has begun to dissipate since it erupted Saturday. Experts suggest that its ferocity is on par with last year’s Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption, which effectively shut down European airspace for six days, costing airlines nearly $2 billion and caused havoc for millions of passengers.

Today, 500 European flights were canceled, mostly in and out of Scotland and northern England, although there has been some minor disruption in Scandinavia, too.

A spokesman for the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) described the situation in Scotland today as a “significant disruption” but said it was “looking good for the next couple of days."

But he confirmed that if high-density ash returned to the UK Friday, major disruption will be likely. “Most UK operators have got an agreement to fly through medium-density ash, but with high-density ash, airlines don’t have that kind of safety case agreed with engine manufacturers. So while the new procedures will allow activity to take place in lower concentrations of ash, the worst-case scenario would mean nothing could take off or land.”

In another development, a bitter row has broken out between Ryanair and the CAA after Ryanair’s boss, Michael O’Leary, claimed there was no volcanic ash in Scottish airspace at all. Mr. O’Leary said Ryanair had sent a test flight into the high ash concentration zone earlier today and that no evidence of ash had been found.

Both the CAA and British Transport Secretary Philip Hammond dismissed the claims. The CAA denied that any Ryanair flight had entered an area of high ash concentration this morning, while Mr. Hammond called Ryanair’s claims “irresponsible."

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