New cloud casts doubt on flights

A NEW ash cloud erupting from the Icelandic volcano has endangered plans to reopen British airspace.

Major carriers had planned to operate long haul departures and short haul flights scheduled to fly after 7pm in a bid to help stranded passengers. But last night hopes faded as a ferocious new blast of volcanic ash drifted south towards the UK.

British Airways (BA) remained hopeful it would resume some flights tonight as planned. Virgin Atlantic said it plans to operate some of its London flights today but will wait for further notice from the aviation authorities.

EasyJet is also monitoring the situation and said there is a possibility it could resume some flight service, while Ryanair flights remain cancelled until Wednesday.

Airlines have seen revenue plummet during the chaos, with BA estimating that it has been hit with between £15-20m a day in passenger revenue losses, while easyJet has lost £5m a day in revenue.

As a result, a growing number of airlines have started to apply increasing pressure on the government to provide financial support as they continue to see their businesses suffer.

The British Air Transport Association (BATA), of which BA is a member, has written a letter to transport secretary Lord Adonis stressing the critical nature of the situation facing the public and the industry.

The airline body, which also counts Air Southwest, BMI, DHL, flybe,, Monarch, Thomas Cook, Thomson Airways and Virgin Atlantic as members, asked the government to stand behind the industry financially and called for the repatriation of stranded travellers.

After holding emergency meetings at Number 10, Gordon Brown initiated a plan to use the Royal Navy to help stranded British passengers, deploying two Navy ships to help with the relief effort.

NATS announced last night that the situation is worsening in some areas. It is understood that London’s airports will be allowed to reopen this evening but NATS said the situation is liable to change overnight. Scotland’s airports may reopen this morning.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa has been granted permission to fly again by the German authorities and Air France will fly eight long haul flights out of regional airports. Spanish carrier Iberia will also resume some flight service.