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Ash Flight Ban

Minister admits ash flight ban 'too cautious'

Rob Cole and Tom Bonnett  Apr 22, 2010

The Transport Secretary has admitted regulators were "too cautious" over the volcano ash flight ban.

The admission came as thousands of people continue to face delays despite the reopening of British airports.

Lord Adonis told BBC radio: "I think it's fair to say we have been too cautious. 'We' being the international safety regulators."

Travel companies have criticised the Government's response to the volcano cloud and demanded state money to cover lost capital.

Tui Travel, which includes Thomson and First Choice, said: "The Government's response to the crisis has been a shambles.

"It is clear that they underestimated the severity of the consequences of the decision for a blanket closure of the airspace for such a protracted period of time."

British Airways chairman Michael Broughton told Sky 's Randall and Boulton Unleashed that the Government should have provided airlines with the information and let them make their own risk assessment.

"That's not unsafe, that's a perfectly rational way of going about it," he said.

Mr Broughton also said passengers' compensation would be limited.

Virgin Atlantic Airways chief executive, Steve Ridgway, said airlines should be compensated.

"It was totally unforeseen, so yes, there will need to be some kind of compensation to deal with the impact it's going to have now and going forward," Mr Ridgway told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

Meanwhile, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary said his airline will defy EU consumer rules which demand full compensation for stranded passengers.

The budget carrier said it will not be held liable for customers' hotel and restaurant bills and would reimburse travellers the original price of their air fare and no more.

"There's no legislation designed that says any airline getting a fare of 30 euro (£26) should be reimbursing passengers many thousands of euro for hotel accommodation. It's absurd," Mr O'Leary said.

"This is one of these issues we want addressed - why exactly are the airlines expected to be reimbursing people's hotels, meals and everything else when the governments are the ones who made a balls of this?"

However, Ryanair insisted it was not making the case for a bail-out or state aid.

Mike Carrivick, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives which represents more than 90 airlines, called on the Government to tackle the EC over "unfair" EU regulations against member state airlines.

He said: "The eagerness of the EU and the UK Government to publicly state that airlines have a responsibility under EU Regulation EU261/2004, to accommodate and feed passengers booked on flights cancelled by the volcanic disruptions, is a misuse of the regulation."

As the flight ban backlash continues, Heathrow says 90% of flights were operating from the airport today and the hub will be at full capacity on Thursday.

Around 75% of flights in Europe are operating, some 21,000 of the 28,000 flights normally scheduled, the European air traffic agency Eurocontrol said.

Hundreds of Britons stranded by the air chaos arrived at Portsmouth after being rescued from Santander in Spain by the Royal Navy HMS Albion warship.

But many travellers still face long delays and are advised to check with their carrier before travelling.

Some 114 Britons staged a sit-in at Calais after being told by the airline Lufthansa they would have to make their own way back from France after a holiday in Munich.

The Foreign Office agreed to pay for ferry tickets and to arrange coaches to Manchester for the group.

Rail lines serving London's airports will stay open all night to help returning passengers, Network Rail (NR) says.

EasyJet has warned that it will take several days to get services back to normal while Ryanair says it will not operate any flights in northern Europe until 1pm on Thursday and there will be no flights between Ireland and the UK until 1pm Friday.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK's independent aviation regulator, stepped in to ease flight restrictions following pressure from the airline industry.

CAA chief executive Andrew Haines told Sky News that the restrictions had been lifted after extensive talks with plane engine manufacturers.

"We have now had robust advice from all the manufacturers that given the level of contamination there is over most of the UK at the moment, it is safe for planes to fly," he said.

The Government's chief scientific adviser told Sky News air travel was "completely safe".

Professor John Beddington said the decision to lift the flight restrictions covering the UK after six days was sound.

Asked whether he would fly, he said: "I would indeed, I think it's completely safe."

Air traffic control company Nats said it faced no political or commercial pressure from the Government or airline companies to ease the restrictions.

Lord Adonis denied the Government had caved in to pressure from the airline industry.

Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers says there should be an inquiry into what she called the "travel fiasco".

But Gordon Brown said the correct procedures had been followed.

"You have got to make sure that people are safe and secure," he said.

"We would never be forgiven if we had let planes fly and there was a real danger to people's lives."

The Met Office said its aircraft had "observed volcanic ash in UK airspace at varying heights" and "multiple land observations have recorded ash in the skies across the UK, including across southern Britain".

Minister admits ash flight ban 'too cautious'
Secretary of State for Transport Lord Adonis: We have been too cautious / Image via


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