As airspace opens, airlines question need for closure
April 21st, 2010 by elisa

Flights from UK airports resumed from 22.00 last night but airlines led by British Airways questioned whether the six day no-fly ruling was necessary at all.

As IATA estimated that airlines lost $1.7 billion in the crisis, BA chief executive Willie Walsh said: “I do not believe it was necessary to impose a blanket ban on all UK airspace last Thursday.”

Much of the UK airspace is re-opening in phases. The Department for Transport said “There will continue to be some ‘no fly zones’ where concentrations of ash are at levels unsafe for flights to take place, but these will be very much smaller than the present restrictions.”

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) made the ruling to lift restrictions following pressure from increasingly frustrated airlines – who will now ask for answers from regulators about the need for all flights to be grounded.

Compensation calls are also being made to cover millions of pounds lost by airlines and tour operators due to the airspace shutdown.

The CAA will continue to monitor the situation with tests both in the air and on the ground.

“It will take time for flights to settle down to normal timetables. If you are hoping to travel, you should contact your airline before travelling to the airport,” the DoT said.

There will continue to be some ‘no fly zones’ where concentrations of ash are at levels unsafe for flights to take place,according to the CAA, but the Met Office advice is that ‘no fly zones’ do not currently cover the UK.

“Making sure that air travellers can fly safely is the CAA’s overriding priority,” the authority said in lifting the ban.

“The CAA has drawn together many of the world’s top aviation engineers and experts to find a way to tackle this immense challenge, unknown in the UK and Europe in living memory.

“Current international procedures recommend avoiding volcano ash at all times. In this case owing to the magnitude of the ash cloud, its position over Europe and the static weather conditions most of the EU airspace had to close and aircraft could not be physically routed around the problem area as there was no space to do so. We had to ensure, in a situation without precedent, that decisions made were based on a thorough gathering of data and analysis by experts. This evidence based approach helped to validate a new standard that is now being adopted across Europe.

“The major barrier to resuming flight has been understanding tolerance levels of aircraft to ash. Manufacturers have now agreed increased tolerance levels in low ash density areas.”

“Our way forward is based on international data and evidence from previous volcanic ash incidents, new data collected from test flights and additional analysis from manufacturers over the past few days. It is a conservative model allowing a significant buffer on top of the level the experts feel may pose a risk.”

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