Page last updated at 20:20 GMT, Sunday, 18 April 2010 21:20 UK

Ash still disrupting Northern Ireland flights

A deserted Belfast City Airport
Travellers are advised to contact their airline before going to the airport

Most flights to and from Northern Ireland have been cancelled for a fourth day amid the threat posed to planes by the volcanic ash cloud.

Air traffic control body Nats has extended restrictions across UK airspace until 1900 BST on Monday.

Nats said Met Office forecasts showed the ash cloud progressively covering the whole of the UK.

"Anyone hoping to travel should contact their airline before travelling to the airport," it added.

The Irish Aviation Authority said: "No commercial passenger flights, including North American traffic, will operate from any Irish airport during this period.

"Met experts are predicting that the prevailing weather conditions will continue in the coming days. Ongoing restrictions are therefore likely."

Restrictions were lifted in Scotland and Northern Ireland on Friday evening but were reapplied within hours.

It is almost surreal in the airport terminal
Uel Hoey
Belfast International Airport spokesman

Hundreds of thousands of passengers have been stranded in the UK and abroad by flight cancellations.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called a top-level ministerial meeting to discuss the situation.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said he wanted flights to resume as soon as possible but safety came first.

He added: "The forecast for tomorrow is not encouraging."

Lord Adonis said further test flights will take place in the UK to help understand the extent of the impact of the ash cloud.

On Monday, EU transport ministers will be meeting to consider whether flights could resume even if volcanic ash remained in the atmosphere.

'Bizarre'

Belfast International Airport spokesman Uel Hoey said it was "almost surreal" in the airport terminal with "very little activity at all".

"The ironic thing is that since Thursday the airport has remained open to facilitate flights but obviously those flights depend on having safe and conducive conditions for the aircraft to operate so we are very much at the end of the chain," he said.

Icelandic Met Office's Matthew Roberts: 'The ash cloud reached 8km high'

"The thing in this particular circumstance is while it is extremely bizarre, the frustration is limited with people and they are fairly philosophical because there is an understanding the problem is beyond anyone's real control."

Katie Best of Belfast City Airport said staff were on hand to deal with enquiries and help people make alternative arrangements.

"We have staff on the gates at the airport here so people are given an update and told that nothing is flying and that they can make their onward journey from there as appropriate," she said.

Flybe has cancelled all flights due to operate on Sunday and Monday and it has asked passengers not to go to George Best Belfast City Airport.

It said a decision would be taken with regard to Tuesday's schedule by 1000 BST on Monday and passengers are advised to check the airline's website.

Aer Lingus said its UK, European and US flights scheduled to depart on Monday have been cancelled. This includes Aer Lingus regional flights.

Ryanair has cancelled all scheduled flights to and from the UK and Ireland until 1300 BST on Wednesday.

Restrictions on flights in the UK have been in place since 1200 BST on Thursday because of fears particles in the ash from the volcanic eruption in Iceland could shut down plane engines.

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB

Air travel across Europe has been severely affected, with a range of countries from Belgium to Switzerland completely closing their airspace, while others like Austria, Germany and Poland have enforced partial closures.

Experts

Prof Brian Golding, head of forecasting research at the Met Office said it was likely the volcanic cloud would remain over the UK for several days.

"We need a change of wind direction that stays changed for several days and there is no sign of that in the immediate future," he added.

Experts say the tiny particles of rock, glass and sand contained in the ash cloud could jam aircraft engines, as has happened in previous incidents of planes flying into plumes of volcanic ash.

The last eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano system that is creating the problems was on 20 March, when a 0.5km-long fissure opened up on the eastern side of the glacier at the Fimmvoerduhals Pass.

The eruption prior to that started in 1821 and continued intermittently for more than a year.



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