19/04/2010

North's Airspace Remains Closed

Flights from the North's airports are again 'up in the air' today as travellers are being advised not to turn up at airports at all as UK airspace remains closed due to the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud.

Most flights to and from Northern Ireland have been cancelled for a fifth day as the National Air Traffic Services body (Nats) extended restrictions across UK airspace until 1am on Tuesday, with Irish airspace also closed until 6pm at the earliest.

More than 6.8m passengers have been affected so far and 63,000 flights have been cancelled since Thursday.

According to the Association of British Travel Agents, about 150,000 people are still stranded.

With volcanic activity continuing over the weekend, restrictions are now in place across northern Europe and there is no indication of when flight schedules will return to normal.

Westminster Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said one British test flight had returned yesterday and the results were being analysed.

He was speaking after British Airways staged a test flight from Heathrow Airport last night as Dutch carrier KLM yesterday said it had flown a plane through the cloud of volcanic ash in Dutch airspace without suffering any damage.

Restrictions had been lifted in Scotland and Northern Ireland on Friday evening but were reapplied within hours.

Senior officials from the Met Office and Nats are continuing to meet every six hours to update the restrictions, but experts are warning the eruptions in Iceland could go on for months, causing travel chaos for millions more passengers.

Flybe has cancelled all flights due to operate today and it has asked passengers not to go to George Best Belfast City Airport.

Aer Lingus said its UK, European and US flights scheduled to depart today have been cancelled. This includes Aer Lingus regional flights.

Ryanair has cancelled all scheduled flights to and from the UK and Ireland until 1pm on Wednesday.

Easyjet has cancelled flights until 1am tomorrow morning and has warned passengers booked on a cancelled flight not to travel to airports.

A spokesman for George Best Belfast City Airport urged all passengers to contact their airlines before travelling to the airport.

He said staff remain on hand to deal with inquiries and help people make alternative arrangements and added: "The terminal remains open for people to collect cars and our website contains all the latest information and contact telephone numbers."

However, business is booming as ferry companies are reporting a huge increase in passenger numbers as the volcanic ash crisis continues to decimate air travel.

Stena Line confirmed that many sailings are operating at full capacity, but say the ferries are running smoothly.

P&O Irish Sea Ferries, operating the Larne to Cairnryan and Larne to Troon routes, are also operating at almost full capacity. A company spokesman said: "The best way to book a crossing at the minute is through our website.

See: Government Criticised Over Airline Chaos

(BMcC/GK)

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