LAST night’s decision by the authorities to re-open Britain’s airspace was yesterday criticised by the aviation industry and London Mayor Boris Johnson for being “too little, too late.”
The six day suspension has left hundreds of thousands stranded and caused severe damage to the economy.
British Airways chief executive, Willie Walsh, said he was pleased that UK airspace was now open, but warned that it would take weeks for the airline to get back to normal levels of operation.
“I don’t think it was necessary to impose a blanket ban on all aerospace last week,” he said. ”We’re now at British Airways going to start the difficult task of getting our stranded customers back home.
“I think this is an airlift that is unprecedented but we will make every effort to get our people back home,” he said.
London Mayor, Boris Johnson, suggested that the volcanic ash crisis had been wildly over-exaggerated by the government.
Johnson, who has consulted extensively with aviation experts since Iceland’s Eyjafjallajoekull volcano began to erupt last week, said key members of the airline industry are used to flying in volcanic zones and “well understand the risks associated with plumes of volcanic ash”.
“It is vital the real risk in this context is considered alongside the verydamaging impact these measures are already having on our economy andpeople’s lives,” the mayor said.
Easyjet agreed with the government’s decision to close the airports but wanted it to do more for the passengers caught up in the mayhem.
“It was a natural disaster. The government should have stepped in earlier,” an Easyjet spokesman said.
The government stood by its actions, stating that safety remained its number one priority.
Some European airlines could face bankruptcy following the crisis.
HOW THE DECISION TO REOPEN UK AIRSPACE WAS MADE
Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, ended the UK’s six-day flight ban yesterday following a meeting in London with major British airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS, the air traffic control centre.
The Civil Aviation Authority, which sets rules governing the use of UK airspace, said it had finally been convinced by a system already enforced in many European countries.
Before the Icelandic eruption the presence of any volcanic dust in the atmosphere meant all aircraft had to be grounded in case it caused engines to seize up.
But on Monday international transport ministers agreed to revise the rules to allow flights where volcanic dust was present but where it was also thought that its concentration was unlikely to create any safety risk.
Although much of European air space re-opened on this advice, Britain remained a no-fly zone – to the fury of airlines which felt it unnecessary. Both NATS and the CAA were accused of being “out of step” with Europe.
Airlines and aircraft manufacturers piled on the pressure with tests to check flight safety.
Yesterday, CAA chairwoman Dame Deirdre Hutton said: “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,”
Airlines will have to carry out a full inspection of their aircraft following any flight through an area where volcanic dust is present. They will also have to report any ash related incidents to the CAA.
“Safety remains my paramount concern,” said Lord Adonis.
“Since the flight restrictions were imposed, the Civil Aviation Authority have been working around the clock with the aircraft manufacturing industry, the airlines and the research community to better understand how different concentrations of ash affect aircraft engines,” he said. “As a result, the Civil Aviation Authority has now established a wider area in which it is safe to fly, consistent with the framework agreed by the EU transport Ministers yesterday."