Turbulent summer for European flights

Iceland’s volcanic ash threatened
European air space once again, forcing Ireland and some North Atlantic islands
to temporarily shut down airports for the first time in 12 days.

Eamonn Brennan, chief of the Irish
Aviation Authority, warned of “a summer of uncertainty” in the air
due to the continuing eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano.

In Brussels, European Union
transport ministers held another emergency aviation meeting and emerged vowing
that reforming the continent’s patchwork air traffic control system into a one
seamless airspace was a “top priority.” Germany and France also
demanded binding rules to determine when airspaces should be closed and planes
grounded because of volcanic ash.

Airlines and airports complained
bitterly that EU uncertainty during last month’s volcanic crisis grounded too
many flights for too long last month. In all, more than 100,000 flights were
cancelled, inconveniencing 10 million travellers.

Aviation authorities shut down
airports throughout Ireland, Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands and the Faeroe Islands
for several hours Tuesday after unexpectedly strong and unseasonal winds drove
a thick cloud of ash southward from Iceland.

Hanging over all official
statements were fears that the volcano in southeast Iceland could keep scattering
ash — and travel chaos — across Europe all summer.

“We remain at risk (of further
shutdowns), particularly towards Wednesday,” Brennan said. in a telephone
interview. “We’re probably facing a summer of uncertainty because of this
ash cloud.”

Iceland’s Institute of Earth
Sciences said the volcano’s plume has risen this week to nearly 18,000 feet
following several large explosions. It said tremors emanating from the volcano
have intensified since Sunday night and the eruption that began 14 April shows
no signs of ending.

The last time this volcano
erupted — in 1821 — the eruption lasted for over a year.