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No blanket closure of UK airspace

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23 May 2011 by Luke McCormick

The government today said it did not expect a blanket closure of UK airspace even if ash from the latest Icelandic volcano reached Britain.

The Grimsvötn volcano began erupting over the weekend and forced the closure of Iceland's airports on Sunday, however they are expected to reopen later today.

No significant impact is expected today on flights as a result of the eruption, but an ash cloud from the eruption is expected to reach the UK by the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Met Office has said.

It does not necessarily mean there will be airspace closures but makes flight disruption more likely, it said.

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) in London said, depending on the continuing eruption of the volcano and the meteorological conditions, there is a risk that some ash cloud may reach parts of northern Europe in the next 48 hours.

BAA and airlines were liaising with the Civil Aviation Authority and National Air Traffic Services to prepare contingency plans.

But Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking before a meeting of EU counterparts in Brussels, said he did not expect a blanket closure of UK airspace.

"I think we are far better prepared and we'll have far better information and intelligence which allows us to adjust things without necessarily the blanket bans on flights which we saw last year, but of course it depends on how the situation develops," he said.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the UK's air traffic control service Nats said they were monitoring the situation closely.

The Foreign Office said: "This is a rapidly changing situation and passengers are advised to remain in close contact with their airlines and travel agents for the most up to date news on the status of their flights and bookings."

Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said: "Our number one priority is to ensure the safety of people both onboard aircraft and on the ground.

"We can't rule out disruption, but the new arrangements that have been put in place since last year's ash cloud mean the aviation sector is better prepared."

A new radar system in Iceland means the Met Office has a ‘far better model', which means planes can be directed more expertly around UK airspace.

The Government has also insisted that it can deal effectively with the situation this time round.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said: "We've spent a lot of time and quite a bit of money putting in place the equipment that's necessary.

"[We've been] working with the airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority, the air traffic control people, so we do actually now have a system worked out.

"Using the additional information that we'll have from all this new equipment we can hopefully work with the airlines to enable them to fly safely around concentrations of ash, rather than having to impose a blanket closure."

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