May 15, 2010 / 12:40 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 3-Italy fines Ryanair, ash cloud threatens UK, Ireland

* ENAC says almost all airlines helped passengers

* Britain says may face 3-day partial airspace closure

* Ireland says airports open until Sunday

(Adds Irish Aviation Authority on Irish airports)

ROME, May 15 (Reuters) - Italy’s ENAC civil aviation authority fined Irish carrier Ryanair (RYA.I) 3 million euros ($3.81 million) for failing to help passengers stranded by Icelandic ash, and Britain and Ireland braced for more potential flight disruption.

In a statement on Saturday, ENAC cited 178 cases in which Ryanair failed to meet its obligation to assist passengers between April 17 and 22, when airlines cancelled hundreds of flights across Europe as the volcanic ash cloud shut airspace.

ENAC said Ryanair passengers stuck in Rome had to be helped by its own staff, members of Italy’s Civil Protection agency and employees of the Rome airports operator.

In contrast, almost all the other airlines provided adequate assistance to stranded ticket-holders, ENAC said.

No one was immediately available for comment at Ryanair.

In London, the government said parts of British airpsace might have to close from Sunday until Tuesday because of a fresh cloud of ash from the Icelandic volcano.

Different parts of the airspace including the southeast, where Europe’s busiest airport Heathrow is located, are likely to be closed at different times, the Transport Department said.

“Due to continuing volcanic activity in Iceland and prevailing weather conditions, there is — if the volcano continues to erupt at current levels — a risk of UK airspace closures,” it said in a statement.

If restrictions become necessary, an announcement will be made by the National Air Traffic Service, it added.

The ash cloud is also drifting towards Ireland from the North Atlantic and is likely to be over the west coast of the country early on Sunday morning, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said in a statement. It will cover the rest of the country later in the day.

The IAA said Sligo, Donegal, and Ireland West (Knock) airports would be open until 0600 GMT while other Irish airports would be open until at least 1200 GMT.

“The IAA is organising observation flights for tomorrow to check on the level of ash concentrate,” it said, adding it would provide another update on Sunday morning.

The spread of ash from an erupting volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland grounded much of European air traffic for nearly a week in mid-April. Airlines had to cancel around 100,000 flights, stranding millions of passengers.

Since then the ash has periodically forced the short-term closure of parts of airspace in countries across Europe.

British Transport Minister Philip Hammand said on Saturday that from now on five-day — rather than the previous 18-hour — ash prediction charts would be made available to airlines and the public on the Met Office forecaster’s website. (Reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London, Daniel Flynn in Rome and Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Dublin; editing by Myra MacDonald)

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