UK airports to reopen tonight

20 Apr 2010 by Mark Caswell

Transport secretary Lord Adonis says that all airports in the Uk can reopen at 2200 this evening (Tuesday April 20), following reassessment of the risk to aircraft of volcanic ash.

A statement released on the CAA website this evening said:

“The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK’s independent specialist regulator with oversight of aviation safety, today issues new guidance on the use of airspace. This is issued in conjunction with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and covers the Anglo Irish Functional Airspace Block (FAB).

“The new guidance allows a phased reintroduction from 2200 tonight of much of the airspace which is currently closed due to the volcanic ash plume over the UK. There will continue to be some ‘no fly zones’ where concentrations of ash are at levels unsafe for flights to take place, but very much smaller than the present restrictions. Furthermore, the Met Office advise that the ‘no fly zones’ do not currently cover the UK.

“Making sure that air travellers can fly safely is the CAA’s overriding priority.

“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.

“In addition, the CAA’s Revised Airspace Guidance requires airlines to:

  • conduct their own risk assessment and develop operational procedures to address any remaining risks;
  • put in place an intensive maintenance ash damage inspection before and after each flight;
  • report any ash related incidents to a reporting scheme run by the CAA.

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

?BA has also released the following statement:

“We are very pleased that the aviation authorities have opened UK airspace to enable us to begin in earnest the task of bringing our stranded customers home.

“We appreciate the consideration that the CAA and the Government have given to the evidence and data that we and other airlines have put forward in support of a safe approach to managing the potential risk posed by the volcanic activity in Iceland.

“We will do all we can to bring in as many of the 28 longhaul aircraft as possible we had originally been due to land at Heathrow or Gatwick after 1900 on Tuesday.

“However, it is bound to take some considerable time before we can restore our full flying programme. We are reviewing our schedule to see if we can operate some longhaul flights into Heathrow and Gatwick landing between 0500 and 1200 on Wednesday April 21.

“At this stage we are looking to operate all longhaul flights departing from Heathrow and Gatwick on Wednesday April 21. This will help to get more aircraft, pilots and cabin crew back who are currently in the UK out to cities around the world to help customers still awaiting a flight.

“Even though UK airspace has been re-opened there will be shorthaul cancellations to and from London airports until 1300 UK time.

“We continue to work around the clock to see how many flights we can operate in the days ahead to help as many customers as possible reach their final destination.”

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