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Europe eases aerial lockdown

Published:Wednesday | April 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) yesterday ordered a phased reopening of much of the country's airspace from 10 p.m. (2100 GMT), bringing in sight an end to the five-day aerial shutdown.

The safety watchdog issued new guidelines on flying planes through the ash spewed from the volcano in Iceland, after experts studied the cloud and manufacturers agreed aircraft engines could work in low-ash areas.

"The new guidance allows a phased reintroduction from 2200 (local time) tonight of much of the airspace which is currently closed due to the volcanic ash plume over the UK," said the CAA in a statement.

The Met Office (weather forecasting service) advised there were not any "no-fly zones" currently in force over Britain, said the watchdog.

The British Airports Authority, which operates Heathrow - Europe's busiest air hub - said they were preparing to open.

"We are ready to open, but until further notice passengers must contact their airline before travelling to the airport," a spokesman said.

"Not all flights will operate during the early period of opening, and we will do everything we can to support airlines and get people moving."

The CAA said the immense challenge of the ash cloud travel chaos had been overcome by gathering top aviation experts from around the world to study the phenomenon.

"This evidence-based approach helped to validate a new standard that is now being adopted across Europe," said the watchdog.

The CAA added its new guidance required airlines to conduct their own risk assessments, inspect planes for ash damage before and after flights, and report any ash-related incidents.

The restrictions had already been eased in Scotland and some parts of northern England, but London's airports, including Heathrow, remained closed yesterday.

The ash cloud prompted countries across Europe to close down their skies in the biggest aerial shutdown since World War II, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stuck abroad.