UK airports reopen after ash cloud lockdown

UK airports reopened on Tuesday April 20 following six days of flight disruption caused by a cloud of volcanic ash from an eruption in Iceland.

The CAA has issued guidance saying after the ban airlines must do their own safety checks, inspect their aircraft for ash damage and report any incidents to the CAA.

BA operated all longhaul flights departing from Heathrow and Gatwick on Tuesday, but chief executive Willie Walsh told Sky News it would be weeks before the industry could get back to normal.

He said: “We’ve had thousands of crew stuck abroad and we have to get them back to Heathrow.”

Walsh said the industry had learned from the experience. “We’ll look at what has happened and what could have been done better. The industry has learned an awful lot in a very short time.

He added: “The decisions that have been taken were with safety in mind. There could be further eruptions in the next few weeks, and if that means we have to suspend flights again, we will do.”

Airline association Iata and airline bosses including Monarch’s Tim Jeans have been critical of the handling of the ash crisis, with many calling for the restrictions to be lifted.

A British Airways test flight from Heathrow to Cardiff carried out on Sunday April 18 found no damage to the aircraft or its engines. KLM and the German airline Lufthansa also carried out test flights in their countries’ airspace and said no damage had occured.

Commercial flights were first grounded on Thursday April 15 as weather systems pushed the first cloud of ash south from Iceland.

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

Those still stranded overseas should call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office helpline on 0207 008 0000.

Photo: Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport – Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters


Latest ash crisis stories


Timeline: How the crisis unfolded

April 21

Eruption continues to dissipate. Iata claims the world’s airlines face $1.7 billion bill. Repatriation efforts in full swing as airspace remains open.

April 20

Monarch chief slams lack of contingency planning by aviation sector. Experts question ongoing ban. Ash cloud rapidly thinning. UK airports reopen at 10pm.

Monday April 19

Iata slams European government over handling of crisis. Government’s emergency committee Cobra orders Navy to repatriate stranded travellers. First leg of Celebrity Eclipse launch event replaced by mercy mission.

Sunday April 18

An additional 270 Tui shops agree to Sunday opening at short notice. Airlines including British Airways hold a number of test flights, then claim it is safe.

Saturday April 17

Situation worsens. UK airspace closed. Coaches leave Alps to bring back skiers. Politicians remain silent on the issue.

Friday April 16

Trade given hope as some flights are permitted in northwest UK. Northern UK remains generally clear; trade braces itself to handle Easter holidaymakers.

Thursday April 15

Following Met Office advice, National Air Traffic Services (Nats) bans commercial flights in UK airspace until 6pm. Nats extends ban until Friday lunchtime. The trade’s emergency procedures are already in swing.

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