LONDON – A dense ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano blew toward Scotland, causing airlines to cancel today’s flights, forcing President Barack Obama to shorten a visit to Ireland, and raising fears of a repeat of last year’s huge travel disruptions in Europe that stranded millions of passengers.
Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said it appears that ash from the Grimsvotn volcano could reach Scottish airspace early today and affect other parts of the U.K. and Ireland later in the week.
British Airways suspended all its flights for this morning between London and Scotland, while Dutch carrier KLM and Easyjet canceled flights to and from Scotland and northern England at the same time. Three domestic airlines also announced flight disruptions.
Still, authorities say they don’t expect the kind of massive grounding of flights that followed last year’s eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland because systems and procedures have been improved since then and the cloud is currently not expected to move over continental Europe.
Pilots unions, however, expressed concerns that the ash could still be dangerous.
Obama, who had been scheduled to spend Monday night in Ireland, was forced to fly to London early because of the ash cloud – he landed at the capital’s Stansted Airport late Monday. Glasgow-based regional airline Loganair canceled 36 Scottish flights scheduled for this morning, as well as some flights to Birmingham and Belfast. It said its flights between Scottish islands would be unaffected. Two other British regional airlines, Flybe and Eastern Airways, also canceled flights to and from Scotland today.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said the first priority is ensuring the safety of people onboard aircraft and on the ground.
“We can’t rule out disruption, but the new arrangements that have been put in place since last year’s ash cloud mean the aviation sector is better prepared and will help to reduce any disruption in the event that volcanic ash affects U.K. airspace.”
Iceland’s main airport, Keflavik, and domestic airport Reykjavik both reopened. Grimsvotn began erupting Saturday.