Norwich airport reopens as volcano ban lifted
Kim BriscoeThousands of travellers were hoping to head home today as the flights ban caused by volcanic ash from Iceland was lifted and all the UK's airports reopened.Kim Briscoe
Thousands of travellers were hoping to head home today as the flights ban caused by volcanic ash from Iceland was lifted and all the UK's airports reopened.
The first flight from Norwich International Airport for six days left for Madeira this morning, and airlines KLM, Flybe, BMI and Eastern Airways were planning to restart later in the day.
Stansted Airport warned passengers not to travel to the airport unless they had a confirmed flight booking and checked the status of their flight beforehand.
Theresa Hopper, terminal manager at Norwich International, said: "The Madeira flight was due to leave this morning. What happened yesterday was that KLM decided to cancel all those flights before the decision was made to reopen airspace and other airlines operating here have chosen to cancel the first flights out of Norwich in the morning.'
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She added: "I think the staff are pleased. The silence here over the past few days has been quite eerie and strange and everyone seems happy that we're getting back to normal."
But schools and services will continue to face disruptions as the airlines struggle to clear the backlog.
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Norfolk hospitals have been forced to cancel operations and appointments because of staff being stranded abroad and 440 staff were absent for the first day of a new term at 188 of Norfolk's schools yesterday. 28 schools were without a headteacher.
Concerns have been raised that the absences could prove costly as schools are forced to employ supply teachers at up to �200 a day, although Norfolk County Council said it would be down to individual schools how to balance the books.
Lisa Christensen, director of Children's Services for Norfolk County Council, said: 'Schools will have a number of strategies to deal with unexpected staff absence, including the deployment of cover supervisors, higher level teaching assistants and supply teachers.
At Norwich airport Robert Green, 53, and his wife Linda, 57, from Reepham were flying to Madeira today. Mrs Green, who is a nervous flier, said she was not as happy as she should be with the flights being resumed, because the safety considerations have made her a bit nervous.
She said: "I didn't know what to think last night - it was all a bit of a rush, but we're happy and looking forward to going."
Brenda Shearing, 72, and her husband Tony, 74, from Sheringham, said they were delighted to be flying. She said: "We were absolutely gobsmacked when we heard last night from our travel agent - it was wonderful. We're now in a later stage of life where if it happened it happened and if it didn't it didn't, but we're very pleased to be going."
Shane McGuire, 65, and his wife Cherry, 63, from Wymondham and neighbours David Jennings, 69, and wife Patricia, 68, were also pleased to be going.
Mrs Jennings said: "Norwich Travel were really brilliant. We were a bit of a pain - we kept phoning up but they couldn't tell us anything. But we got to hear from them last night. We had convinced ourselves that we wouldn't be going and to find out about the flight was amazing - we're very pleased.'
Despite the initial arrivals at UK airports last night, more flights were not expected to land until this afternoon as the airlines attempt to clear the backlog.
A BA spokeswoman said: "We are expecting to see our long-haul flights going out from Heathrow this morning but we don't expect our first inbound flight to land until around 1pm this afternoon.''
A statement on the British Airways' website said it would take time to return to a "full flying programme'' because many aircraft and crew were out of position.
The lifting of the ban came as questions were raised over whether it was necessary. British Airways boss Willie Walsh said 'lessons can be learned' from the handling of the event: "I don't believe it was necessary to impose a blanket ban on all UK airspace last Thursday.
'My personal belief is that we could have safely continued operating for a period of time.'
Today Transport Secretary Lord Adonis denied that pressure from the airlines had forced the Government to reopen the skies.
He said "continuous assessments'' had been made throughout the shutdown caused by the volcanic ash cloud, which is thought to have cost the industry about �130 million a day.
He said: "At every stage decisions were based on the decisions of safety regulators. They have not been based on pressure from airlines, and that is what the public would expect.'
The former managing director of Norwich airport, Elliott Summers, told the Evening News that an 'ambulance chasing culture' was to blame for the ban: 'The people who made the decision will have been 'over safe' because nobody wants to be the person who put their head above the parapet and said it was safe and then find an aircraft subsequently fall out of the sky, even if they knew with reasonable certainty that it was not going to happen.
'When these decisions are made scant regard is given to those who will be really affected. The passengers stuck all over the world will suffer most but amazingly no real contingency travel arrangements exist - this must surely be a lesson to be learned from this episode. Similarly the aviation businesses will really suffer.'
Some 150,000 Britons have been stranded abroad in the wake of an eruption from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland that has thrown an enormous cloud of potentially hazardous ash into airspace over northern Europe.
It is estimated nearly seven million passengers in total have been affected by the blanket bans on flying, which governments have insisted are necessary on safety grounds.
Ash from volcanoes can be turned into a glass form at high temperatures when it passes through a jet engine, which could cause an air disaster.
Due to the scale of the disruption, it will take some time for flights to resume normal operations and passengers are advised to check with their airlines for the latest information about flights.
For more information passengers are advised to contact the airport on 0844 748 0112 or visit www.norwichairport.co.uk.
Read more from Elliott Summers in Saturday's Evening News.