Expected dense ash cloud cancels Scottish flights

LONDON (AP) — A dense cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano blew toward Scotland Monday, forcing airlines to cancel flights, U.S. President Barack Obama to cut short his visit to Ireland and carriers across Europe to fear a repeat of the huge disruptions that stranded millions of passengers a year ago.

British Airways suspended all its flights between London and Scotland on Tuesday morning, and Dutch carrier KLM canceled more than a dozen flights to and from Scotland and northern England at the same time. Two domestic airlines also annouced flight disruptions.

Still, officials say they don’t expect the problems caused by the Grimsvotn volcano that began erupting on Saturday to be as great as that caused by another Icelandic volcano last year that led to the grounding of almost all air traffic in Europe for several days amid fears that the ash could cause engines to stall. Authorities say systems and procedures have been improved, and the ash is currently not expected to move into continental Europe.

Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said the ash could reach Scottish airspace from Tuesday onward and affect other parts of the U.K. and Ireland later in the week.

Glasgow-based regional airline Loganair canceled 36 flights scheduled for Tuesday morning. It said its flights between Scottish islands would be unaffected. Another small airline, Eastern Airways, which is based in northern England, also canceled all flights to and from Scotland on Tuesday.

Obama, who had been scheduled to spend Monday night in Ireland, planned to fly to London on Monday evening instead. Last year’s ash cloud forced Obama to cancel a trip to Poland.

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 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 UK airspace.”

Many airlines said authorities overestimated the danger to planes from the abrasive ash last year, and overreacted by closing airspace for five days.

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