Flights resume in Scotland, but new cloud looms
Britain's first flight since European governments eased airspace restrictions left Scotland early Tuesday, but there were new warnings of a fresh cloud of volcanic ash heading this way.
Initial plans to resume flights from London later in the day were shelved, but Prime Minister Gordon Brown said airlines were seizing the chance to fly passengers into and out of the country.
"We are taking advantage of the window of opportunity, but our first priority is that passengers will always be safe," he said, adding: "We know that further volcanic ash will be in the clouds over the next day or two."
The first flight took off from Glasgow airport for Stornoway, in the Outer Hebrides, at 7:15am (0615 GMT), 15 minutes after Scottish airspace reopened.
US businessman Jim Welsh was hopeful as he checked in, ironically, for a flight to Iceland, where the volcanic eruption occurred last week.
"I'm thrilled I can get this flight. I'm planning on getting a flight to Boston from Iceland," said the 52-year-old.
"I was in London for business and I was supposed to leave Heathrow on Thursday. I travelled by train to Glasgow on Thursday night but couldn't get on the flights leaving here on Friday," he said.
Under relentless pressure from airlines who have lost more than a billion dollars from the crisis so far, EU transport ministers agreed to ease restrictions from Tuesday.
On Monday, the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which manages British airspace, gave the go-ahead for the Scottish reopening and said more airspace over England may become available from about 1200 GMT.
But on Tuesday it signalled tighter restrictions, saying parts of Scottish airspace including Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh airports would be available from 1200-1800 GMT.
Flights would also take off from Newcastle airport in northeast England. But restrictions would remain in place for the rest of Britain for airspace below 20,000 feet.
Brown rejected suggestions that authorities were being too cautious.
"I understand the inconvenience that this is causing," he said.
But he added: "I think everybody knows when you have volcanic ash in the atmosphere it creates a danger for the planes. All the advice is that we have got to be absolutely vigilant about how and when you are now flying."
© 2010 AFP