Bypassing ash cloud adds time to US-European flights
DUBLIN — A mammoth cloud of volcanic ash stretching 1,250 miles across the North Atlantic is forcing most flights between North America and Europe to divert into a sky-high traffic jam, Irish and European air authorities said yesterday.
Forecasters warned that the rapidly spreading cloud of ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano was projected to reach southern Greenland and the northwest tip of Spain by today.
The obstacle was already forcing about 600 daily flights operated by more than 40 airlines to carry extra fuel, because the diversions were lengthening flights by as much as two hours.
Air safety officials stressed that the cloud does not pose any immediate threat to shut airports or ground aircraft once again.
But they said the expanding obstacle would force trans-Atlantic flights into air corridors that run unusually south into Spanish airspace or north into the Arctic.
US and European airlines said they were taking the latest inconveniences in stride, even though each extra hour in the Atlantic air would mean burning more than $5,000 worth of aviation fuel, or about 2,250 gallons, per plane.
“We’re having to fly around it like everybody else,’’
American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said its trans-Atlantic flights were traveling 90 minutes to two hours longer on average. He said one flight to London’s Heathrow Airport had to be canceled because it would not arrive in time for the airport’s overnight curfew on operations.
In Ireland, Aer Lingus canceled two Saturday flights to and from Boston, citing the exceptionally circuitous routes to get around the cloud, and planned to combine passengers from two flights onto one.
Ireland has borne the brunt of this week’s renewed presence of Icelandic ash into European airspace. It shut down six western airports yesterday, but rapidly reopened them as the cloud remained sufficiently west of its Atlantic coastline.
Ireland and Scotland also experienced airport shutdowns Tuesday and Wednesday. They were the first such closures since a majority of European air links were shut down April 14-20, stranding 10 million passengers.
The Irish government’s emergency task force on the ash crisis said the cloud already measured 1,250 miles by 800 miles and was being pushed by winds both northwest and southeast.
The Irish Aviation Authority produced interactive maps illustrating how the cloud should grow even larger, running from Greenland to Spain, within the next 24 hours. It said Irish flights to and from the US should operate today but would experience delays because of the particularly circuitous routes required.
In Brussels, the European air traffic management agency Eurocontrol said trans-Atlantic airlines could no longer safely fly over the Atlantic ash cloud because it has reached 35,000 feet, the typical cruising altitude of aircraft. Until this week, the ash had remained below 20,000 feet.