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Air travel chaos continues

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:46 02 July 2010

Air passengers faced further chaos today with most flights in the UK grounded until this evening as a cloud of volcanic ash continues to drift over the country.

Air passengers faced further chaos today with most flights in the UK grounded until this evening as a cloud of volcanic ash continues to drift over the country.

Norwich Airport remains closed to passengers and air traffic control company NATS has warned restrictions are due to remain in place until 7pm at the earliest.

The backlog of delays caused by ash from the Icelandic volcano is expected to last throughout the weekend, leaving some passengers stranded as they try to return from Easter breaks.

Eileen and Harry Cottrell, from Sotherton Road, Norwich, said their daughter Margaret Whiting and family had been forced to take a ferry from France to get back to Norwich for the couple's 65th wedding anniversary when their flight to Stansted was cancelled yesterday.

The family are getting together for a double celebration as Mrs Whiting and her husband Brian are also celebrating their wedding anniversary tomorrow. Mrs Cottrell, 86, said, her daughter was hoping to be in Norwich tonight.

“We were a bit disappointed when their flight was cancelled, but they will still be here,” she said.

“They were supposed to come in to Stansted, but she rang and said they were going to get their own car and take the ferry.

Steve Maddams, 27, from Norwich, was today hoping to get a flight back from Marmaris, in Turkey, where he is stranded with his wife Laura, 26.

Mr Maddams, a senior field sales executive with Archant Norfolk, said: "We were supposed to be flying from Dalaman, which is two hours away, but our rep said we were going to be delayed. They did promise that there would be hotels for us to stay in overnight, though.

“Judging by the amount of people on the flight on the way out, there must be about 250 people affected, all of whom were heading back to Norwich.

“We don't know when we will be able to return home because once the airspace reopens it will be really busy and there will be planes all over the place. It does feel strange to be stranded because of something that happened miles away in Iceland.”

Planes flying from RAF Marham, RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall have also been affected and East Anglian Air Ambulance's two helicopters have been grounded.

Niall Duffy, head of PR for Flybe, which flies from Norwich Airport, said 565 of the company's flights across the country had been due to fly yesterday, but just 11 took off.

The company extended its call centre opening times by four hours and is offering all of its customers a refund or the option to re-book on an alternative flight.

NATS said a limited number of flights could run to and from Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland today. Last night the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) lifted restrictions on flights to and from Cork and Shannon Airports and some of the regional airports, but restrictions were due to remain in force in Dublin until late this morning.

In a statement, NATS said: “The cloud of volcanic ash continues to cover much of the UK and the eruption in Iceland continues.

“Following a review of the latest Met Office information, NATS advises that restrictions will remain in place in UK controlled airspace until 1900 today, Friday April 16, at the earliest.”

The statement continued: “In general, the situation cannot be said to be improving with any certainty as the forecast affected area appears to be closing in from east to west.

“We continue to work closely with airports, airlines, and the rest of Europe to understand and mitigate the implications of the volcanic eruption.”

The ash, from the Icelandic volcano mountain Eyjaffjalljokull, has also caused airport and aircraft movement shutdowns in other parts of Europe, including France, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Holland.

Einar Kjartansson, a geophysicist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, said: “It is likely that the production of ash will continue at a comparable level for some days or weeks.

“But where it disrupts travel, that depends on the weather. It depends how the wind carries the ash.”

The microscopic particles which make up volcanic ash pose a threat to aircraft because they can affect visibility and get sucked into aircraft engines, causing them to shut down.

John Law, forecaster at WeatherQuest, based at the University of East Anglia, said: “The volcano is still erupting and while it's still putting dust and ash into the atmosphere and we have this north easterly wind, then it will continue to come over to us.

“It could stay for a while, while the volcano is still erupting. Volcanoes are always watched across the globe and although we don't have volcanoes, they can affect us if the wind is in the right direction which has happened in this case.”

Have you or your family been caught up in the chaos? Contact Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

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