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Ash flight ban to remain over most of UK

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 20 April 2010

There will be phased reintroduction of UK airspace from 10pm tonight, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said after some flights began arriving into the country as the flight ban is partially lifted.

Travel chaos continues in the UK as Nats restricts flights across the country (Getty)

The announcement came as British Airways long-haul flights set off from destinations in Africa, Asia, and the US - San Francisco, Boston and Cape Town - with the aim of landing at London's airports this evening.

However a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said no flights could land in airspace currently restricted by Nats, which included Heathrow airport.

"They can't land in an area where Nats is not providing a service," he said.

The BA spokeswoman said one flight, from Bahrain to Heathrow, had been diverted to Brussels.

Earlier BA cancelled all outbound long-haul flights until 12 noon tomorrow.

Most airports across the UK had been due to be remain closed until at least 1am tomorrow, in a further blow to the tens of thousands of passengers stranded on the Continent and beyond.

The air traffic control body Nats had allowed some airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland to continue to operate after reopening this morning – including Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh.

In a statement this afternoon, Nats said Glasgow and Teesside airports are expected to reopen this evening and resume flights until 1am.

UK-bound flights above the ash cloud will be granted a small window of opportunity to land between 7pm and 1am.

But Nats did say planes could fly at 20,000ft over UK airspace, enabling airlines such as British Airways to fly aircraft to land at the northern England and Scottish airports that are operational tonight.

Ryanair has cancelled all flights between Ireland and the UK until at least Friday, but hopes to being flying passengers in and out of mainland Europe on Thursday.

Newcastle airport was able to reopen this morning and is expected to receive 11 Thompson flights from Europe tonight.

Nats said it would continue to monitor the "variable" situation alongside Met Office forecasts and make a further statement at 9pm tonight.

For more Channel 4 News coverage of the ash travel crisis
- Volcanic ash: was air travel ban necessary?
- Volcanic ash: airlines no longer covering bills
- Volcanic ash: your questions answered

The Foreign Secretary David Miliband estimated that 40,000 Britons are stuck outside Europe, advising them to get in touch with their airlines to seek repatriation.

He added: "Obviously for British citizens in distress anywhere around the world, for example if they’ve got health needs or medicines that they need delivered, (we have a responsibility) to make sure that our consular staff are able to meet those exceptional needs."

A number of European airlines have stopped covering costs for delayed passengers, and have called on the European Commission to suspend the law that forces them to provide free food and accommodation.

The industry is piling pressure on EU governments for compensation, after 95,000 grounded flights has left it nursing vast losses.

BA said on Monday the no-fly zone was costing it £15m to £20m a day.

Air France said it plans to run 100 per cent of its long-haul flights programme tomorrow, the airline said.

HMS Albion has set sail from Santander in northern Spain, carrying more than 250 stranded holidaymakers and 450 troops returning from duty in Afghanistan – including soldiers, RAF pilots and medics.

Many of the travellers will bunk down on camp beds below deck, while some of the warship's crew have given up their berths for others.

The troops and tourists have been fed curries or fish and chips, and are expected to arrive in Portsmouth tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, the two other Navy warships in Gordon Brown’s emergency task force, HMS Ocean and HMS Ark Royal remain in UK waters awaiting orders.

Since being deployed to the English Channel on Sunday, neither ship has been told where to begin the rescue operation.

HMS Ocean is currently positioned in the Channel, carrying out routine training exercises as it waits, the Ministry of Defence said today.

HMS Ark Royal is en route from northwest Scotland, heading towards the south coast of England.

Cross-channel ferry companies have laid on extra ferries to cope with the demand, and say they have plenty of spaces on board.

The Foreign Secretary has advised people stuck in Europe to head for Calais - saying they could cross the Channel from there with plenty of spaces on passenger ferries.

Miliband said around 20,000 people a day were managing to cross the Channel by rail or ferry.

Gordon Brown also gave his guarantee that Britons stranded at Channel ports would be able to get home.

They may arrive in style after a luxury £500m British cruiseship postponed its inaugural celebrations in order to head to Spain and help the rescue effort.

The Celebrity Eclipse, weighing in at 122,000 tonnes, will leave Southampton tonight en route to Bilbao.

Eclipse will pick up around 2,000 stranded Britons and make the journey back to Southampton on Friday evening.

Gordon Brown told passengers to head to a European 'hub' in Madrid or any of the Channel ports.

Five coaches carrying 250 Britons were leaving Madrid tonight after the British Embassy there managed to arrange transport.

The passengers will be driven to Calais before boarding a ferry across the Channel.

Earlier, the prime minister urged British holidaymakers to make their way to ports in Northern France.

"It's important that everybody knows that if they can get to a Channel port we can get them across from Europe to the United Kingdom," he said. "We can guarantee that people will be able to get back."

The Foreign Office has issued a comprehensive guide for travellers stranded abroad and in the UK. 

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