Volcanic ash has been found in Ryanair engines
MYSTERY surrounds the discovery of volcanic ash in the engines of two Ryanair aircraft.
The planes had flown to UK airports -- but the airspace had been open and unrestricted by stringent grounding rules at the time.
The airline initially said the aircraft had separate technical problems unrelated to the Icelandic ash plume.
However, after subsequent tests, Ryanair yesterday confirmed that two of its aircraft that landed at Belfast City Airport at the weekend had traces of ash in their engines.
The two planes, due to fly to London, were grounded on Sunday -- but they were back in service yesterday after manufacturer-approved procedures were completed by engineers.
A company spokeswoman insisted: "There was no risk to anyone." The amounts found were said to be minute.
Other aircraft operators have already had this level of safe exposure and it will become routine the longer the ash plume remains.
Meanwhile, air travellers were promised only "minimal disruption" today as it emerged that Irish academics have developed the country's first system of forecasting the dispersion of the ash plume.
The system developed at NUI Galway is expected to be one of the most sophisticated in Europe. The four-day forecasts of plume density and dispersion are currently compiled at least twice a day.
However, over the next week, these will increase to six-day forecasts, four times daily.
Professor Colin O'Dowd, director of the Centre for Climate & Air Pollution Studies at NUI Galway, said the rapid development of the system would provide Ireland's own capability of assessment and prediction.
Despite long delays to transatlantic flights which were forced to take detours yesterday, Met Eireann predicted that the ash plume would cause minimal disruption over the coming week.
The Irish Aviation Authority said last night that all Irish airports would remain open until at least 6pm today.
It also said the ash cloud would continue to cause difficulty for some transatlantic flights and for those into some parts of southern Europe, including Spain.
Two Aer Lingus transatlantic planes -- from New York and Boston -- were delayed for some three hours arriving into Dublin this morning, while Ryanair said it has cancelled dozens of flights to and from destinations in Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands.
The British Airports Authority said all of its airports were open today and operating normal schedules, but warned of delays to transatlantic services and cancellations by airlines.
Latest meteorological charts showed the ash cloud extending across the Atlantic into Spain and Portugal, and further east over France.
Ryanair said on its website: "Based on current Euro Control and meteorological forecasts Ryanair expects airspace over Faro (Portugal) and Madrid to be closed/restricted during Tuesday May 11."
Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin met representatives of the industry yesterday to review the effects of the crisis, which is estimated to be costing the sector up to €10m a day.
She said a customer care charter -- which would assure visitors to Ireland that they would be taken care of if they got stuck -- would be drawn up by the weekend and marketed worldwide.
Aer Lingus today issued a statement on the crisis. Chief executive Christoph Mueller said: "When the plume impacts on our airspace our first focus is to plot a different flight path to avoid cancelling flights, however this is often unavoidable."