New safety rules have been agreed to allow aircraft to fly in airspace with higher densities of volcanic ash for limited periods.

So far Flybe is the only airline to meet new standards to allow it to operate within the revised safety rules that come into force tomorrow at midday.

The budget carrier said had the new rules been in place during the past 48 hours it would only have had to cancel 21 flights, 3% of its programme, compared to 381.

Flybe has worked with engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Canada and aircraft manufacturer Bombadier on new safety criteria that were agreed today by the CAA.

The authority has raised the tolerance level for volcanic ash from 0.002 grams per cubic metre to 0.004. Carriers will have to provide enhanced levels of safety information to be allowed to fly within these new limits.

Jim French, Flybe’s chief executive, said: “The CAA called upon the industry to bring forward thoroughly researched proposals to safely improve the ability to fly in te vicinity of low level volcanic ash concentrations.

“Flybe worked closely with the Met Office, Bombadier and Pratt & Whitney Canadato develop the propsals which have been endorsed by the CAA today. Flybe’s overriding concern is always safety, and these new rules arise from a proven process of safety management within the company and the industry which helps make air travel the safest form of public transport.

“The application of these new rules in the last 48 hours would have reduced our levels of cancellation from 380 flights to 21, or put another way, only 3% of our programme would have been affected. This level of cancellation would be more akin to a weather event and therefore much more bearable for customers and the industry.

“We thank the CAA and Met Office for their support in this work and look forward to working with them further to get the UK safely back on the move. I hope with these measures that consumers can once again feel confident in booking air travel.

Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the CAA said: “The manufacturers are co-operating fully and urgently in this task and the new zone is an excellent example of how the industry should be working to move the issue forward and I commend Flybe for its work”

The CAA added: “The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) today reports a positive outcome from discussions with airlines, regulators, and aircraft and engine manufacturers resulting in new measures to reduce airspace closures.

“UK airline Flybe is the first to achieve this and will therefore be able to use the new zone from midday tomorrow”.