LONDON — A dense ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano blew toward Scotland, causing airlines to cancel Tuesday flights, forcing President Obama to shorten a visit to Ireland, and raising fears of a repeat of last year's huge travel disruptions in Europe that stranded millions of passengers.
Britain's Civil Aviation Authority said it appears that ash from the Grimsvotn volcano could reach Scottish airspace early today and affect other parts of the U.K. and Ireland later in the week.
British Airways suspended all its flights for this morning between London and Scotland, while Dutch carrier KLM and Easyjet canceled flights to and from Scotland and northern England at the same time. Three domestic airlines also announced flight disruptions.
Authorities say they don't expect the kind of massive grounding of flights that followed last year's eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland because systems and procedures have been improved since then and the cloud is not expected to move over continental Europe.
Pilots unions, however, expressed concerns that the ash could still be dangerous.
Obama, who had been scheduled to spend Monday night in Ireland, was forced to fly to London early because of the ash cloud.
Glasgow-based regional airline Loganair canceled 36 Scottish flights scheduled for this morning, as well as some flights to Birmingham and Belfast. It said its flights between Scottish islands would be unaffected. Two other British regional airlines, Flybe and Eastern Airways, also canceled flights to and from Scotland on Tuesday.
Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said the first priority is ensuring the safety of people both onboard aircraft and on the ground.
"We can't rule out disruption, but the new arrangements that have been put in place since last year's ash cloud mean the aviation sector is better prepared and will help to reduce any disruption in the event that volcanic ash affects U.K. airspace."
Many airlines said authorities last year overestimated the danger to planes and overreacted by closing airspace for five days amid fears that the abrasive ash could cause engines to stall.
CAA spokesman Jonathan Nicholson said authorities this time would give airlines information about the location and density of ash clouds. Any airline that wanted to fly would have to present a safety report to aviation authorities in order to be allowed to fly.