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Volcanic Ash Causes Flight Delays / Cancellations

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Flights in and out of airports in Scotland have been disrupted as ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland moves closer to the UK with concerns it could spread further south, once again affecting some of the busiest airports in the world, and even the European continent.

Even President Obama cut his visit to the Republic of Ireland short so he could fly to London and avoid any potential delays that the volcanic ash may cause.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority said on Monday that new arrangements put in place since last years volcanic ash cloud would help to limit any disruption in the event that volcanic ash reaches UK airspace this week, but also warned that disruption to aviation couldnt be ruled out. In the event that UK airspace is affected, the following arrangements will apply:

Areas of high, medium and low density ash will be identified using information provided by the Met Offices Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre. This is based on data provided from the source of the volcano, satellite, and weather balloons, as well as ground based instrumentation such as radar

Information on the high and medium density zones will be communicated to the aviation industry by means of a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM)

Any UK airline wishing to operate in areas of medium or high density ash, will need to have a safety case accepted by the CAA. Many airlines already have such safety cases in place and agreed for medium density. According to CAA, none has so far submitted a safety case to operate in high density ash.

A safety case sets out the measures airlines will put in place to mitigate the risk of flying through ash. They also include input from aircraft and engine manufacturers. Safety cases have been used by airlines for many years to set out how they will safely deal with other unusual or challenging issues.

Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the CAA, said, Our number one priority is to ensure the safety of people both onboard aircraft and on the ground. We cant rule out disruption, but the new arrangements that have been put in place since last years ash cloud mean the aviation sector is better prepared and will help to reduce any disruption in the event that volcanic ash affects UK airspace.

 The three levels of ash density are defined as:

Area of Low Contamination: An airspace of defined dimensions where volcanic ash may be encountered at concentrations equal to or less than 2x10-3 g/m3, but greater than 2x10-4 g/m3.

Area of Medium Contamination: An airspace of defined dimensions where volcanic ash may be encountered at concentrations greater than 2x10-3 g/m3, but less than 4x10-3 g/m3.

Area of High Contamination: An airspace of defined dimensions where volcanic ash may be encountered at concentrations equal to or greater than 4x10-3 g/m3, or areas of contaminated airspace where no ash concentration guidance is available.

What can you do?

Last year hundreds of thousands of air travellers and related companies were affected all over the globe. Airlines reacted in different ways with some just leaving their customers to their own devices, and finances. Others, especially those based in Europe who have strict laws to follow, were much more customer service-orientated and offered accommodation, reimbursement of food and beverage etc.

It is important that passengers that may be affected by this latest eruption consider all their options, ensure they have all the contact numbers they may require in the worse case scenario, check with their airline what they will, and will not, reimburse if they are stranded somewhere, check with the hotel where they plan to stay what their contingency plans are if there is a problem, and what rate would be applied if an extension of stay is needed etc.

Last year, some passengers ran out of cash as they came to the end of their holiday, so making sure you have a little reserve or a spare credit card could come in handy if the worse happens. Checking with the airlines and hotels for all their contact details including overseas where you plan to travel as well as in the virtual world such as twitter etc.

If you have booked through a travel agent, contact them find out all the above. Use the internet to work out what alternative transport options you would have if the worse happens, can your flights be rerouted free of charge, are there trains or coaches which you could use if flights are grounded, which car rental companies are in the area you are going to, get their contact details.

The industry is of course keepings its fingers crossed, but weather is unpredictable and nobody can foresee just how bad this volcanic ash cloud could become, all you can is monitor the situation closely and make sure you are as prepared as possible. 

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