Proposals to reopen British airspace to aviation traffic are being hampered by a second volcanic ash cloud spreading across the Atlantic from Iceland.
National Air Traffic Services (NATS) had previously outlined proposals to reopen airspace across the UK later today; however the situation remains “dynamic”, with plans constantly recalibrated.
Air traffic controllers said in an update shortly before 03:00 on Tuesday: “Since our last statement at 21:00 yesterday, the volcano eruption in Iceland has strengthened and a new ash cloud is spreading south and east towards the UK.
“This demonstrates the dynamic and rapidly changing conditions in which we are working.”
Despite sustained disruption in England, there were hopes for a gradual reopening of Scottish airspace throughout the day.
Edinburgh and Glasgow airports saw departures to Stornoway at 07:00 this morning. However, all traffic at this time remains domestic, with no international flights planned.
Based on the latest Met Office information, Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh airports will be available to aviation traffic from 13:00 – 19:00 today, NATS confirmed.
Newcastle Airport is also expected to resume operations later today, possibly followed by Manchester and Bristol airports.
New guidance from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) could also see restrictions removed for aircraft operating above 20,000ft over the rest of UK airspace.
However, the impact of the second ash cloud on this decision remains unclear.
Late last night British Airways confirmed it was planning to resume some flights into and out of London’s airports from 19:00 this evening.
“We are working on detailed plans to help as many customers as possible who have been unable to fly due to the unprecedented circumstances that have faced all airlines operating in northern Europe over the last five days,” said a statement.
However, the airline later confirmed it was “reviewing the situation”.
easyJet joined BA, with a statement reading: “Due to the ongoing closure of air space in large parts of Europe, easyJet flights to and from Northern Europe, including the United Kingdom, will be cancelled until 17:00hrs Tuesday 20 April.
The airline had hoped to resume some services earlier; however, based on the latest meteorological forecasts and continuing emission of volcanic ash into the atmosphere, this is now “not possible”.
Volcanic Ash Plume: April 19th, 2010. (Cred: Sabre Flight Explorer)
As the suspension of air traffic enters its sixth day, contingency plans are moving into place.
In Spain, HMS Albion has arrived at the port of Santander in order to repatriate stranded service personnel from the 3 Rifles.
Two additional Royal Navy vessels are also entering service to offer assitance to British tourists stuck overseas.
In the UK Celebrity Cruises confirmed it is working with UK tour operators to collect more than 2,000 holidaymakers from Spain.
Planned launch celebrations for the 2,852-passenger vessel have been suspended, with the liner expected to arrive in Bilbao to collect stranded holidaymakers on Thursday.
Meanwhile the head of the International Air Travel Association (IATA) warned continued disruption was costing the aviation industry $200 million a day, while TUI claimed to be losing £6 million for each day of the crisis.
As many as 150,000 British holidaymakers remain stranded abroad, with ferry and rail services back to the UK running at full capacity.