UK airports running again after BA forces the issue
BA chief Willie Walsh orders long-haul flights to head for home - and only then gets permission to land
Planes have been landing and taking off from British airports for the first time in six days after the blanket ban on flights - introduced because of the risks to jet engines from a cloud of volcano ash - was suddenly dropped last night.
Airlines now face a huge logistical problem as they try to repatriate tens of thousands of Britons still stranded abroad, and get planes and crews dotted around the world back on schedule. It could be weeks before normal service is resumed. BAA, which operates the majority of Britain's airports, says people should contact their airlines before travelling to an airport and expecting their flight to take off on time.
The ban was lifted after increasing pressure from airlines, many of which had conducted their own tests and found no evident damage caused by particles from the volcanic ash.
In what appears now to have been an act of brinkmanship, Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways, ordered long-haul flights to take off from Canada and other countries and head for London, even before the ban was lifted.
Pilots were initially told they could not land at Heathrow or Gatwick but then the air traffic control body Nats, which had been overseeing the six-day ban, apparently caved in.
Walsh said: "I don't believe it was necessary to impose a blanket ban on all UK airspace last Thursday. My personal belief is that we could have safely continued operating for a period of time."
Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, denied having bowed to pressure from the airlines. "They have wanted to be able to fly their planes - of course they have - but that has not been the issue at stake here," he told Newsnight.
"Having to assess safe levels of ash content in the atmosphere within which planes can fly has been an urgent issue which the safety authorities have had to deal with. That's what's changed - it's not been pressure from the industry."
But the Conservatives' shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers demanded an inquiry into what she described as a "fiasco".
"Six days into the crisis, we're suddenly told that there are actually levels of ash which are compatible with safe flying," she said. "The question angry passengers and airlines are already asking is why the Government hadn't worked this out before the crisis occurred."
It was unclear last night whether a reported second cloud of volcanic ash had dissipated or was simply being ignored in the sudden eagerness to get Britain's airlines moving again. The Eyjafjallajoekull volcano is reportedly still spewing ash and lava, but at a diminished rate. ·
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