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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-05-24

US President Barack Obama has cut short his visit to Ireland due to a cloud of volcanic ash drifting from Iceland that threatened to ground all British flights and wreak travel chaos across northern Europe.

AFP - US President Barack Obama was forced to leave Ireland a day ahead of schedule Monday to fly to London as a cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano drifted towards Britain.

The president decided to bring forward his flight to Britain, where he was originally due to arrive early Tuesday, after forecasters predicted ash from the Grimsvoetn volcano was set to enter Scottish airspace and drift south.

"Due to a recent change in the trajectory in the plume of volcanic ash, Air Force One will depart Ireland for London tonight. The schedule for tomorrow will proceed as planned," the White House official said.

Under the changed plans, Obama was to depart Dublin for London on Monday evening as part of his six-day European tour of four countries.

After his state visit to Britain he is due to fly to France on Thursday.

Volcanic ash is expected to reach Scottish airspace by 2300 GMT on Monday, according to the British air traffic control operator NATS.

When an Icelandic volcano erupted last year, the plume of ash arrived in Scotland before spreading quickly across Britain, shutting down the whole country's airspace.

The ash then drifted across most of Europe, sparking the biggest shutdown of airspace since World War II.

Grimsvoetn has so far forced only the closure of Iceland's airspace at the weekend, parts of which were reopening on Monday.

The change to Obama's plans came shortly after a Scottish airline announced it was axing a handful of flights early Tuesday and Britain warned the ash was already causing minor flight disruptions.

Glasgow-based regional airline Loganair, which serves mainly Scottish destinations, said it had axed 36 services early Tuesday.

"For tomorrow the volcanic ash forecasts issued by (forecasting service) the Met Office this afternoon indicate that a high density of ash will be present in large parts of Scottish airspace," said a statement from the airline.

"As a result of this, we have taken the decision to cancel all services with the exception of our inter-isles flights in Orkney," an archipelago off the northern Scottish coast.

British transport minister Philip Hammond said there had been some delays to flights but added Britain was better prepared after last year's travel chaos when Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano caused major disruption.

"There have already been some modest delays to flights, particularly those crossing the Atlantic, due to the need for those flights to avoid areas of high ash concentration," he said.

"Clearly, this is a natural phenomenon which we cannot control, but the UK is now much better prepared to deal with an ash eruption than last year," he said.

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority said that since last year's crisis it had brought in new measures, including a move that areas of high, medium and low density ash will be identified using data from the Met Office.

Instead of a blanket ban on flights, British airlines wishing to operate in high or medium density ash will now have to have a safety request approved by the CAA.

The request sets out measures airlines will take to reduce the risk of flying through ash.

"None has so far submitted a safety case to operate in high density ash," it said.

Date created : 2011-05-23


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