The travel and tourism industry has mounted an attack on the UK government’s handling of the ash crisis.
As some 150,000 stranded passengers make the journey home, the head of Europe’s largest tour operator labelled the response to the six-day crisis as shambolic.
Peter Long, the chief executive of Tui Travel said: “The Government’s response to the crisis has been a shambles. It is clear that they underestimated the severity of the consequences of the decision for a blanket closure of the airspace for such a protracted period.”
Opposition political parties have demanded an inquiry into the Civil Aviation Authority ban on flights in UK airspace. Conservative leader David Cameron called for a “rapid inquiry” saying, “it is clear that there has been some muddle and confusion in government about some of the information people have been given that doesn’t quite seem to stack up,” he said.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg called for a “post mortem”.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted that the British authorities had been right to wait for more the full results of the effects of ash particles on jet engines.
He said: “You have got to make sure that people are safe and secure. We would never be forgiven if we had let planes fly and there was a real danger to people’s lives.”
“The first thing people will want to be sure of is, if you fly in an aeroplane, that you know it is going to be safe and that was the first responsibility of the Government – to make sure that safety was paramount.”
UK airlines meanwhile have been angered that European rivals in such as Lufthansa and Air France were given the all-clear to fly on Tuesday while most British airspace remained closed.
The ban was only lifted after analysis from aircraft and engine manufacturers showed that commercial jets could fly safely where there was a limited degree of contamination.
The CAA and National Air Traffic Services had insisted that flying be banned if any traces of ash were found, and that the Eyjafjallajökull cloud had spread across northern Europe.