As of last night, the UK is allowing flights banned by ash cloud to resume, but questions and recriminations now surround the six-day closure
Britain finally lifted flight bans last night and reopened all airports, after airlines and officials agreed on a way to deal with the volcanic ash that brought much of Europe’s skies to a standstill over the past six days.
The move was announced by transport secretary Lord Adonis after airline chief executives met twice with aviation authority and government officials in London.
Lord Adonis said safety was the ‘paramount concern’ but research into the effects of the ash on planes from aircraft and engine manufacturers had led to a ‘better’ understanding of the risks.
However, British Airways chief executive, Willie Walsh, accused the government and the UK air safety watchdog of imposing unnecessary hardship on hundreds of thousands of passenger.
The opening of all UK airports came after aircraft and engine manufacturers changed their advice on commercial jets’ ability to withstand contamination from volcanic ash clouds that have grounded carriers across Europe and cost airlines $1.2bn (£780m) following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
The first BA flights landed at Heathrow shortly before 10pm last night as Walsh said he believed the ban had been an over-the-top response. ‘I personally believe we could have [used British airspace earlier]. I don’t believe it was necessary to impose a blanket ban on UK airspace,’ he said.
However, airports warned that the new regime imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) could cause delays for several days, as airlines will be required to run ash-damage checks before and after flights, while hundreds of planes and thousands of crew members are out of position around the world.
Preparations to repatriate the stranded Britons were under way last night, as BA, easyJet and BMI said they planned to reinstate as many services as possible this morning. BA said ‘hundreds of thousands’ of its passengers were still abroad.
A spokesman for BAA, the owner of Heathrow airport, said: ‘You cannot just close an airport for six days and then reopen without some hitches. It is an enormous logistical operation on the part of airlines and airports.’