Video: Airports reopen after volcano ash delays

  1. Transcript of: Airports reopen after volcano ash delays

    ANN CURRY, anchor: Meantime, Britain 's two major airports have reopened this morning, but not without widespread delays because of that volcano in Iceland which caused problems for air travelers to and from parts of Europe over the weekend. We've got NBC 's Stephanie Gosk at London's Heathrow Airport this morning. Stephanie , how big a headache was this?

    STEPHANIE GOSK reporting: Well, it is still a big headache and it will continue to be for the next 24 hours or so. As you said, the good news is right now that Heathrow 's open, you'll see planes taking off an landing behind me, as well as the other major airports in and around London . Having said that, arrivals are limited, departures are delayed if they take off at all, and they're still evaluating the situation. There could be closures later on today. Now, the UK isn't the only country that's been affected. Ireland 's been affected, as well as the Netherlands . They had to close their two major airports, Amsterdam and Rotterdam , this morning. But this cloud will not ultimately be as disruptive as the one last April that shut down major European airports for almost a week and cost billions of dollars. There are strong winds that are going to push it out of UK airspace by Tuesday. But of course, scientists warn as long as that volcano is erupting in Iceland , travelers and airlines alike are going to have to deal with these kind of disruptions. Ann :

updated 5/17/2010 4:42:08 PM ET 2010-05-17T20:42:08

Aviation authorities introduced relaxed flight safety rules Monday to minimize more disruptions caused by a volcano eruption in Iceland, as three of Europe's busiest airports reopened after a dense volcanic ash cloud dissipated.

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority said it agreed with airlines, regulators and engine manufacturers on new rules that would let planes fly for a limited time at higher ash densities than currently allowed. The rules — which go into effect Tuesday — are subject to airlines getting a guarantee from their engine makers that their aircraft can safely tolerate the ash.

The body said that so far British budget carrier Flybe was the only airline that satisfied those conditions, but it expected other airlines to follow soon and European authorities to introduce similar rules.

British air traffic control company NATS said the new rules meant that restrictions on British airspace could now be eased.

"There is mounting evidence that aircraft can fly safely through areas of medium density, provided some additional precautions are taken. This is now what has been agreed," the company's CEO Richard Deakin said. "As a result of this change, there are no predicted restrictions on U.K. airspace in the immediate future."

London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport — some of Europe's biggest air travel hubs — reopened Monday after they closed because of volcanic ash worries. All three warned travelers it would take time for airlines to clear the backlog of delayed flights and to contact their airlines before going to the airport.

All British, Scottish and Irish airspace will remain open at least until early Tuesday, but airspace over the North Sea was still restricted, affecting some helicopter operations.

Eurocontrol, the continent's air traffic control agency, said 28,000 flights were expected Monday in Europe — about 1,000 less than normal — mainly due to the disruptions in Britain and the Netherlands.

Iceland's Reykjavik airport was closed Monday. The Icelandic civil protection agency said the ash cloud was drifting to the north, and was not expected to travel to Europe in the next two days.

Germany sent up two test flights Sunday to measure the ash cloud, but there was no word yet on the results of those tests. Still, Germany said Monday the latest ash cloud should not affect its airports.

"At this time, the concentration of ash above German air space is so low that there are no reductions in air traffic," German Air Traffic Controllers said.

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Ash can clog jet engines. The April 14 eruption at Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano forced most countries in northern Europe to shut their airspace between April 15-20, grounding more than 100,000 flights and an estimated 10 million travelers worldwide.

The shutdown cost airlines more than $2 billion, and carriers complained about what they described as arbitrary closures. British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh called the latest disruptions "a gross overreaction to a very minor risk."

"I am very concerned that we have decisions on opening and closing of airports based on a theoretical model," he said. "There was no evidence of ash in the skies over London today yet Heathrow was closed."

Last week, the European air safety agency proposed drastically narrowing the continent's no-fly zone because of volcanic ash to one similar to that used in the U.S. The proposal still must be approved.

Eurostar added four extra trains Monday — an additional 3,500 seats — between London and Paris to help travelers cope.

Eyjafjallajokul (pronounced ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl) erupted in April for the first time in nearly two centuries. During its last eruption, starting in 1821, its emissions rumbled on for two years.

Jennifer Quinn in London, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Melissa Eddy in Berlin and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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