Page last updated at 22:43 GMT, Monday, 19 April 2010 23:43 UK

'Uncertain' situation for Northern Ireland flights

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

There are fresh doubts about the planned opening of the Northern Ireland airspace on Tuesday morning.

The volcano eruption in Iceland has strengthened and a new ash cloud is spreading south and east towards the UK.

The air traffic control body Nats said the situation for Northern Irish airports was uncertain.

Earlier on Monday, Nats had said that Northern Ireland airspace would reopen from 0700 BST on Tuesday.

Nats said its latest statement demonstrated "the dynamic and rapidly changing conditions in which we are working".

It said the latest information showed Scottish airports should be available from 0700 BST and more airspace over England may become available from 1300 BST although not as far south as the main London airports.

Flights to and from NI were cancelled for a fifth day on Monday.

It is estimated 120,000 passengers have been affected by the closure of Northern Ireland airspace.

Nats had said restrictions across the rest of England and Wales may be lifted later on Tuesday and that it was up to airports and airlines to decide "how best to utilise this opportunity".

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) had said some flights were expected to operate out of Irish airports on Tuesday.

It said some flights would start to operate from 0500 BST, but the authority had stressed that it would not be a return to full service.

Earlier, IAA Chief Executive Eamon Brennan, had said he did not expect flights to return to normal until Friday, due to the scale of the backlogs and the dispersal of aircraft and airline crews.

The volcanic eruption in Iceland had abated for a time on Monday morning, but the Met Office said on Monday afternoon the ash emissions had increased once again.

Although this is not back to the initial maximum height of 30,000 feet, the spokesman said the unpredictable nature of the volcano's activity meant that there was still "cause for concern".

The Met Office is keeping Nats up to date with the latest situation.

'Contingency plans'

Thousands of passengers remain stranded with planes grounded across Europe.

EU transport ministers held emergency talks on Monday to try and ease the paralysis of air travel in Europe caused by the volcanic cloud.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said "contingency plans" were being put in place to get as many people through airports "as fast as possible" if the travel restrictions were lifted.

Isle of Man airspace reopened at 1300 BST on Monday.

Two 19-seater Manx2 airplanes were scheduled to depart to Belfast. Manx2 planes fly at a lower level to other aircrafts and operated over the weekend.

Flybe cancelled all flights due to operate on Monday. It scheduled flights between Belfast and Scotland, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Tuesday, but said as ever passengers should contact airlines before travelling to any airport.

It had said its first flight on Tuesday from George Best Belfast City Airport was scheduled to depart from after 1000 BST, but it would continue to monitor the situation.

EasyJet said flights to and from Northern Europe, including UK flights, would be cancelled until 1300 BST on Tuesday.

Brian Ambrose of Belfast City Airport had said he expected a "phased reintroduction" of flights on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Belfast International Airport said its "best advice" remained for passengers to refer directly to airline websites before deciding to travel to the airport.

Before the latest Nats statement, Aer Lingus had said all flights from Belfast, Dublin and Cork to Spain, Portugal and Italy with a scheduled departure time up to 1300 BST would operate as scheduled on Tuesday.

It had aimed to operate the majority of its European schedule after 1300 BST and said the status of these flights would be confirmed on its website.

All its flights from Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Knock, and Shannon to London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester with a scheduled departure time up to 1300 BST on Tuesday have been cancelled. It said operations on these services after this time were under review and would be confirmed on its website.

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

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary, said he hoped to get flights going again "by lunchtime Wednesday" and clear the backlog "within a day or two".

BMI flights are cancelled until at least 1300 BST, while Jet2 and Thomson flights will continue to be cancelled until Thursday at least. Passengers are advised to check airline websites for updates.

Earlier on Monday, Aer Arann had said its flights from Dublin to City of Derry Airport were scheduled to operate on Tuesday.

EXPERT ADVICE

The move to ease airspace restrictions was announced after the UK's emergency committee Cobra met to discuss options in addressing travel chaos caused by the volcanic ash cloud.

Gordon Brown said Royal Navy ships would be deployed to bring home some of the estimated 150,000 Britons stranded abroad, including British troops heading home from Afghanistan.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said his government is holding talks with ferry and shipping companies to review the capacities available to bring home Irish residents who are stranded abroad.

Cost

More than 6.8m passengers have been affected so far and 63,000 flights have been cancelled since Thursday.

According to the Association of British Travel Agents, about 150,000 people are still stranded.

Stena Line said that since air space restrictions began on Thursday it had carried 55,000 passengers across its five Irish Sea routes - an additional 30,000 passengers more than it "would normally expect at this time of year".

Airports and airlines have questioned the need for curbs said to be costing airlines alone $200m (£130m) a day.

Two groups representing European airport operators and airlines have demanded "an immediate reassessment of flight restrictions".

British Airways is among several airlines which have now carried out test flights without incident.

However, a Met Office plane did encounter dangerous levels of ash.

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 from the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano system could jam aircraft engines, as has happened in previous incidents of planes flying into plumes of volcanic ash.



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