A British Airways flight has landed safely at Heathrow airport as UK airspace reopened after test flights proved planes can withstand volcanic ash, and the Civil Aviation Authority agreed to lift the blanket ban on airspace. Calling it a ‘situation without precedent’, the CAA added: “The major barrier has been understanding aircraft tolerance levels to ash.”
National Air Traffic Services (NATS) is to reopen airspace over parts of northern England for the first time since Thursday, allowing airlines to begin alleviating backlogs.
Scotland and Northern Ireland will also see airspace open until at least 01:00 on Wednesday morning, NATS confirmed.
Following the latest MET Office advice, the air traffic control body stated Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh airports will be open until at least 01:00 tomorrow.
Newcastle, Glasgow and Teesside airports are all likely to reopen during this period, however, the “situation will continue to be variable”.
Some 150,000 British travellers are presently estimated to be trapped overseas, with volcanic ash from Iceland continuing to disrupt services across Europe.
“NATS is maintaining close dialogue with the Met Office and with the UK’s safety regulator, the CAA, in respect of the international civil aviation policy we follow in applying restrictions to use of airspace,” explained a statement.
“We are working closely with government, airports and airlines, and airframe and aero engine manufacturers to get a better understanding of the effects of the ash cloud and to seek solutions.”
Airlines have accused the government of overreacting to the situation, with many now arguing for compensation.
However, transport secretary Lord Adonis argued the safety of air passengers remained the “paramount concern”.
The minister added: “All decisions being taken by the aviation regulators are intended solely to protect the travelling public, and I will not compromise passenger safety.”
While there had been earlier hope of reopening all affected airspace, NATS did confirm UK airspace above 20,000ft would now be available, allowing carriers to repatriate aircraft.
The move will also allow flights between Europe or the Middle East and North America, which would normally fly through UK airspace.
NATS said there would be no London flights until at least 19:00 this evening, with further delays expected.
However, a number of carriers - including Ryanair, easyJet and British Airways – have already cancelled short-haul flights in northern Europe until Wednesday morning.
Ash continues to spew from the Eyjafjoell volcano
In Europe, Eurocontrol expects some 14,000 flights to take to the air today, representing just over half of the scheduled air traffic.
On a normal Tuesday, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation would expect between 27,000 and 28,000 departures across Europe.
As the disruption enters its sixth day, Eurocontrol now estimates more than 95,000 flights will have been cancelled since Thursday April 15th.
New procedures agreed yesterday may allow for an increase in traffic over the coming days, with planes now offered access to airspace above 20,000 feet.
However, air traffic control services are not being provided to civil aircraft, or are being provided with significant restrictions, in the lower airspace primarily in north-western Europe.
Airspace is closed in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, north France, north Italy, Latvia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Ukraine and the UK.
Approximately 600 transatlantic flights take place each day, 300 in each direction. Of the 300 flights that would usually arrive in Europe, 219 flights have arrived in Europe today, and 233 have left Europe, Eurocontrol confirmed.
Photo: Met Office