The volcanic ash clouds creating havoc for the airlines in Europe are also creating unprecedented opportunities. With air traffic interrupted, workers are patching runways and as one blogger proposed, general aviation pilots are making low passes at airports they rarely get to fly over. I know, as yesterday I made a low pass of the Dublin International Airport in Ireland—and I wasn’t the only one doing it!
On Tuesday, Irish airspace was...
Ireland is noted for precipitation throughout the year, but a series of high pressure areas have kept Dublin rain free for two weeks. More typical conditions would quickly break up a volcanic ash cloud. But the unusually clear and sunny weather has allowed the ash cloud to persist for six days.
On the radio yesterday, I heard a professor from Galway explain that, overnight, he’d measured the ash cloud as low as 5,000 feet, much lower than the 20,000 feet it’s typically hovered at. Regardless, I haven’t seen any evidence of the cloud. Haze limited visibility one day to about 6 or 7 miles, but that turned out to be the result of a forest fire.
I’ve been in Ireland for a few days and have met several general aviation pilots. One of them, William Flood, owns a beautiful Cessna 180, N180WJ. Yesterday William invited me along to do something he’d never done before: make a low pass at Dublin International. Trevor Kellett, an Irish dairy farmer and Ireland Aviation Authority flight examiner joined us for the flight.
Class C airspace extends as low as 3,000 feet in the vicinity of Dublin airport, so we approached the airport from the north at 2,500 feet. We’d previously filed a VFR flight plan and we were cleared direct to a waypoint northeast of the airport. Weather was outstanding by Ireland standards. The overcast layer was at least 5,000 feet, winds were light, and the temperature hovered around 10°C (50°F).
We were directed to fly a right base entry for runway 28 and advised not to go lower than 300 feet. The controller, who sounded very relaxed, explained that he didn’t want us to go any lower so we wouldn’t “scare the workers on the runway.”
As we approached the runway, the controller called out traffic to us, a Cessna 150 which had also just made a low pass. At the main terminal, we could see most of the gates were full and no airliners were moving anywhere at the airport. A Fed-Ex plane and a number of green Aer Lingus planes were visible. On the other side of the field, we spotted several Ryan Air jets with engines wrapped in clear plastic to protect them from any possible damage from falling ash. At the departure end of the runway, workers were visible patching the runway. After the low pass, we departed to the south and flew over downtown Dublin, something Trevor told me we’d never be able to do on a normal day in Ireland.
Some commercial flights flew on Wednesday, but Ryan Air, which has its main hub at Dublin, won’t return to the skies until 5 AM Thursday and won’t fly from Ireland to the U.K. until 5 AM Friday. What’s been an inconvenience for airline passengers has been a bonanza for GA. I think there are many of us still grinning today all over Ireland!