New ash cloud casts doubt over airport openings

A new ash cloud moving south from the Icelandic volcano eruption is casting doubt over plans to open airports in the UK this morning.

Airports in Scotland and some in the north were due to reopen at 7am this morning and others were due to open at 1pm, but the Met Office warned that a new ash cloud was spreading south.

The National Air Traffic Control Service (Nats) said Scottish airports would open as planned at 7am, but moving cloud means the situation in Northern Ireland was uncertain. Airspace in the north may open at 1pm, but London airports are likely to remain closed. A further statement is expected at 9am.

In a statement at 3am, Nats said: “Since our last statement at 2100 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.”

A British Airways test flight from Heathrow to Cardiff carried out yesterday found no damage to the aircraft or its engines. The airline said it had provided fresh evidence that blanket airspace restrictions are unnecessary and should be lifted.

KLM and the German airline Lufthansa have also carried out test flights in their countries’ airspace and said no damage had occured.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said he hoped 50% of Europe’s airspace would be risk-free today, and EU transport ministers will hold a video teleconference to assess the situation.

Giving a press conference outside Downing Street, prime minister Gordon Brown said the Royal Navy could be used to ferry passengers back to Britain.

The announcement came on the day that international airlines and pilots demanded a relaxation of the no-fly zone which has grounded most flights across northern Europe for the past four days.

Commercial flights were first grounded on Thursday as weather systems pushed the cloud of ash south from Iceland. Volcanic ash is a particular threat to aircraft engines and can cause them to stall.

Airline body Iata said on Friday that its conservative estimate was that the grounding would cost around $200 million per day in lost revenues, plus the additional costs of bringing services back into line once the restrictions are lifted.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has set up a helpline for those stranded overseas on 0207 008 0000.

  • Last Nats update: 03:00 Tuesday
  • Next Nats update: 09:00 Tuesday


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