DUBLIN (AP) — It’s been a month now, and Iceland’s volcano shows no sign it will stop belching ash across Europe anytime soon. A whole continent is rethinking its summer vacation plans, and struggling airlines are wondering how to cope in the cloud of uncertainty. Although the global disruption of last month’s massive eruption has faded, smaller ash plumes continue to snarl air services intermittently all the way to Turkey, more than 2,500 miles from the Eyjafjallajokul (pronounced ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl) volcano.
Volcanic ash, invisible to traditional radar and indistinguishable to the eye from normal clouds, can sandblast aircraft and force jet engines to shut down. Huge volumes of the debris forced most of northern Europe to shut its air services April 15-20, grounding an estimated 10 million travelers worldwide. Since then the ash plume has thinned and spread out, shifting shape by the hour, rising into North Atlantic air routes and imposing awkward detours on hundreds of trans-Atlantic flights daily. Criticism has been sharpest in Ireland and Britain, Iceland’s southeast neighbors and fellow islands heavily dependent on air links for their economic health. Ireland’s two major airlines, Aer Lingus and Ryanair, this week accused the existing authorities, the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center in England and the Eurocontrol air safety agency in Brussels, of not knowing enough about the ash to make informed decisions to shut down air services.
Irish tourism centers, dependent on Europeans and Americans arriving by air, say their summer will be bleak if the volcano doesn’t stop. Ireland’s government has called upon tourism industry officials to woo more Irish to compensate for the missing foreigners. "Pre-volcano we were having a great year. Then all hell broke loose, thanks to your man (the volcano)," said Debbie Walsh, manager of a heritage museum in the County Cork port of Cobh. She said, this summer, the key to financial survival would be the approximately 50 cruise liners expected to disgorge tourists in Cobh. "We’re lucky in that we can fall back on the cruise liners. Nothing is going to stop them from coming in." One of Ireland’s top attractions, the Guinness brewery in Dublin, provides a living barometer for when the city’s air links are closed. "About 90 percent of our visitors come through Dublin Airport, so when the ash threat shuts it down, it’s like turning off a tap at the Guinness Storehouse," said managing director Paul Carty.