Irish airports reopen despite Atlantic ash cloud
Ireland reopened its western airports Friday but warned that a 1,000-mile-long (1,600-kilometer-long) cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland was still lurking offshore.
The Irish Aviation Authority, which ordered a half-dozen airports shut overnight, quickly reopened them once it became clear that the cloud was staying sufficiently far from Ireland's Atlantic coast - at least until the winds shift once again.
"While the northerly winds are keeping the bulk of the cloud out in the Atlantic, the increased size of the cloud continues to pose a risk especially if the winds change," the authority said in a statement.
"The restrictions were required as the increased level of recent volcanic activity has created a massive ash cloud stretching 1,000 miles long and 700 miles wide," it said.
Ireland's two major airlines, Ryanair and Aer Lingus, shifted services to Dublin Airport in the east and Cork Airport in the southwest during the early-morning shutdowns of other airports. Uncertain how long Shannon Airport in western Ireland would be shut, Aer Lingus opted to bus hundreds of US-bound Aer Lingus passengers four hours east to fly from Dublin instead.
The Irish Aviation Authority said shifting winds, most recently coming from the north, had bundled recent days' erupted ash into a mammoth cloud that is growing both in width and height by the hour.
Eurocontrol, a Brussels agency that determines the air routes that airliners use across the continent, said the ash accumulation posed a new navigational obstacle - because the cloud is gradually climbing to 35,000 feet (10,500 meters) and into the typical cruising altitude of trans-Atlantic aircraft. Until recent days, the ash had remained below 20,000 feet (6,000 meters).
The Irish Aviation Authority said the engine-wrecking ash was expected to remain off Ireland's western shores Friday. It said trans-Atlantic flights had already shifted their paths south to avoid the cloud.
Until Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano stops its emissions, the key to the future course of Europe's ash crisis will be the prevailing Atlantic winds.
When the winds blow to the northeast toward the unpopulated Arctic - typical in springtime - the danger to aircraft is minimized. But when they shift southward, as happened both this week and in mid-April, airlines' ability to land and depart safely can be jeopardized.
The glacier-capped volcano, about 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) northwest of Ireland, has shown no signs o stopping since it began belching ash April 13. It last erupted from 1821 to 1823.
In Iceland, civil protection official Agust Gunnar Gylfason said the eruption intensified Wednesday and the volcano continued to emit a higher volume of ash Thursday. He said the ash plume's maximum altitude was oscillating between 20,000 and 30,000 feet (6,000 and 9,000 meters).
On the Net:
Irish Aviation Authority map of ash cloud, http://tinyurl.com/39wauvt