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Huge ash cloud closes Irish airports

Planes grounded at Belfast City Airport in Northern Ireland Wednesday. (By Peter Morrison / Associated Press)

Iceland's volcano has produced a 1,000-mile-wide ash cloud off the west coast of Ireland that will force western Irish airports to shut down again Friday, the Irish Aviation Authority announced.

The authority said shifting winds, currently coming from the north, had bundled recent days' erupted ash into a massive cloud that is growing both in width and height by the hour.

Eurocontrol, which determines the air routes that airliners can use in and around Europe, says the ash accumulation is posing a new navigational obstacle -- because the cloud is gradually climbing to 35,000 feet and into the typical cruising altitude of trans-Atlantic aircraft. Until recent days, the ash had remained below 20,000 feet.

The Irish Aviation Authority said the engine-wrecking ash would skirt Ireland's western shores Friday, forcing a half-dozen airports to ground flights for much of the day. However, the airports in Dublin, Cork in the southwest and Waterford in the southeast will remain open.

The Irish Aviation Authority said trans-Atlantic aircraft using Irish air space were already giving the ash cloud a wide berth by shifting their flight paths south.

The volcano, about 900 miles northwest of Ireland, has shown no signs of stopping since it began belching ash April 13. The glacier-capped volcano last erupted sporadically from 1821 to 1823.

In Iceland, civil protection official Agust Gunnar Gylfason said the volcano's eruption intensified Wednesday and it continued to emit that higher volume of ash Thursday. He said the ash plume's maximum altitude was oscillating between 20,000 and 30,000 feet.

By Michael Bolden  |  May 6, 2010; 7:07 PM ET
Categories:  Advisories , Airports  
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