IRELAND looks set to remain cut off from Europe for the rest of the weekend as the continuing spread of volcanic ash across northern Europe brought aviation to the biggest standstill since 9/11.

After re-opening all Irish airspace earlier yesterday, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) was last night forced to once again close Cork, Kerry, Waterford and Shannon airports as the ash cloud drifted back over the south of the country.

In the country’s other airports, all flights heading eastwards and southward remained grounded as the volcanic ash cloud was still hanging over Britain and most of mainland Europe.

Aeroplanes could potentially fly over the plume but emergency landings would not be possible.

Shannon was due to re-open at 10am today and Cork, Kerry and Waterford at 11am.

Ryanair last evening announced that none of its scheduled flights to or from Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia or northern Europe will operate until 1pm on Monday afternoon.

Aer Lingus’s transatlantic flights were operating to schedule last night.

Across Europe, around 17,000 airplanes were grounded and hundreds of thousands of intending passengers had weekend travel plans disrupted.

The International Air Transport Association has said the air traffic disruption was costing airlines more than$200 million (€148m) per day.

However, the crisis hasn’t been without winners. Fastnet Line, operating the Cork-Swansea route, said that they had recorded a 200% increase in bookings from Cork and Wales over the past 24 hours, with most seeking to travel as foot passengers. Stena Line and Irish Ferries said the rush to book ferry transport was “unprecedented” and reported queues at ports in Dublin and Rosslare.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland is still erupting but there have been no earth tremors since Thursday evening.

Met Éireann last night denied that any volcanic ash could have fallen in Ireland — despite claims in the south and west of the country that deposits were found on cars and that people could “taste” ash while outside.

Meteorologist John Eagleton said that plume is moving at a height of about 20,000-30,000 feet above sea level and would only reach ground through rainfall.

However, scientists from Sheffield Hallam University confirmed they had collected samples of volcanic ash in Britain yesterday.

Met Éireann said high pressure is keeping the ash cloud off the east coast, but a weak front with air brought down directly from Iceland is expected to move in late on Sunday and this could lead to ashfall.

Uncertainty surrounded the public health effects of the ash dispersal.

However, World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman David Epstein advised European “to try to stay indoors if ash from Iceland’s volcano starts raining down from the sky”.

Last night, passengers were still being advised to check their airline’s website before arriving for scheduled flights — in case of any unexpected changes.

The Government’s Emergency Response Co-Ordination Committee has said that although Irish airspace has reopened, the problems with the volcanic ash are not over.

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