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Iceland's ash may keep choking Europe's air travel

DUBLIN, Ireland — Iceland's clouds of volcanic ash are menacing European air traffic again, but transport chiefs insisted Tuesday they are learning from last month's crisis and won't let the emissions ground their continent again.

Rising volcanic activity spurred aviation authorities in Ireland, northwest Scotland and the Faeroe Islands to shut down services Tuesday, the first time in two weeks. Their airports reopened several hours later, once the densest ash clouds had passed their airports and moved back over the Atlantic.

But a new wave of engine-damaging ash from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano was approaching British airspace, forcing Britain's Civil Aviation Authority to announce that airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland had to cancel services indefinitely, beginning at 7 a.m. local time today.

The British authority said its forecasters had determined that ash in United Kingdom airspace "has increased in density." It said the prevailing winds would probably continue to push the threat southward, missing the key European air hubs in London.

Earlier, travelers and transport chiefs alike said Europe was learning to pinpoint the true nature of the threat vs. last month's better-safe-than-sorry shutdown of air services for nearly a week in several countries. Airline and airport authorities branded that response overkill; it grounded 100,000 flights and 10 million passengers and cost the industry billions.

European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas emphasized that had last month's sweeping safeguards been imposed Tuesday "a very large part" of Europe would have lost its air links again — and for days, not hours.

Kallas and transport ministers from across the 27-nation European Union agreed Tuesday at an emergency meeting in Brussels to press ahead on plans to unify their divided air-traffic control networks, research new ways to identify and measure radar-invisible ash clouds and legally define safety standards for specific makes of jet engines and the airline industry as a whole.

Iceland's ash may keep choking Europe's air travel 05/04/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 11:53pm]
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