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Flights start to resume in Europe

NEWS
Flights start to resume in Europe

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earth

••• Britain’s first flight since European governments eased airspace restrictions left Scotland early on Tuesday, but there were new warnings of a fresh cloud of volcanic ash heading this way.

Initial plans to resume flights from London later in the day were shelved, but Prime Minister Gordon Brown said airlines were seizing the chance to fly passengers into and out of the country.

‘We are taking advantage of the window of opportunity, but our first priority is that passengers will always be safe,’ he said, adding: ‘We know that further volcanic ash will be in the clouds over the next day or two.’

The first flight took off from Glasgow airport for Stornoway, in the Outer Hebrides, at 7.15am GMT, 15 minutes after Scottish airspace reopened.

U.S. businessman Jim Welsh was hopeful as he checked in, ironically, for a flight to Iceland, where the volcanic eruption occurred last week.

‘I’m thrilled I can get this flight. I’m planning on getting a flight to Boston from Iceland,’ said the 52-year-old.

‘I was in London for business and I was supposed to leave Heathrow on Thursday. I travelled by train to Glasgow on Thursday night but couldn’t get on the flights leaving here on Friday,’ he said.

Under relentless pressure from airlines who have lost more than a billion dollars from the crisis so far, E.U. transport ministers agreed to ease restrictions from Tuesday.

On Monday, the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which manages British airspace, gave the go-ahead for the Scottish reopening and said more airspace over England may become available from about 12:00 GMT.

But on Tuesday it signalled tighter restrictions, saying parts of Scottish airspace including Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh airports would be available from 12:00 – 18:00 GMT.

Flights would also take off from Newcastle airport in northeast England. But restrictions would remain in place for the rest of Britain for airspace below 20,000 feet.

Brown rejected suggestions that authorities were being too cautious.

‘I understand the inconvenience that this is causing,’ he said.

But he added: ‘I think everybody knows when you have volcanic ash in the atmosphere it creates a danger for the planes. All the advice is that we have got to be absolutely vigilant about how and when you are now flying.’
European Union transport ministers held emergency talks in Brussels in a bid to resolve the massive disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud blowing across the continent. This came as Switzerland extended a ban on commercial flights to Tuesday.

Click here for the latest status of disruptions across the continent The International Air Transport Association has sharply criticised European governments for their lack of leadership in handling the airspace restrictions.

“This is a European embarrassment and it’s a European mess,” said the association’s director general, Giovanni Bisignani.

All the major airports in Western Europe remained close but authorities in Sweden, Romania, Croatia and the Czech Republic announced the resumption of flights.

The closure of most of Europe’s airspace since late last Thursday has cost the airline industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

With air traffic officials still designating much of the continent a virtual no-fly zone, airlines were urging a rethink of airspace restrictions as test flights showed no problems.

French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo however said the test flights were not steps towards reopening European airspace.

“We do tests and everything goes back to normal? No. It’s not a theory which exists.”

Despite the row, an Icelandic seismologist said Monday the volcanic eruption has “diminished markedly” and now is spewing far less ash.

British Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis said European and international agencies were in urgent talks to try to ease the chaos.

“We want to be able to resume flights as soon as possible, but safety remains my paramount concern,” he said.

E.U. Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said he had ordered a full study to assess the impact of the situation created by the volcanic ash cloud on the economy, and the air travel industry in particular.
» Millions watch Iceland volcano online
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