Flights have finally began landing again at London Heathrow airport after U.K. aviation authorities reopened much of the nation's airspace from 10p.m. local time.
The reopening was welcome news for the British Airways flights that were in a holding pattern or diverted to other airports while waiting for Heathrow to be opened. BA had launched some long-haul flights from North America and elsewhere to Heathrow early this morning, expecting that the airport would reopen in the late afternoon as originally planned. Due to the later opening, many of these flights had to be diverted to other European airports such as Shannon and Madrid, but they were expected to take off again tonight to complete their journey to Heathrow.
The U.K. was particularly hard hit by the ash cloud caused by the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, with authorities changing their plans and opting to keep much of the country's airspace closed April 20 after a new burst of ash was emitted by the volcano. The U.K.'s Civil Aviation Authority finally announced a phased opening of U.K. and Irish airspace beginning 10p.m. local time.
The CAA and the Irish Aviation Authority stressed that restrictions would remain in place in some areas, but these would be significantly reduced in size. The CAA said its plan “is based on international data and evidence from previous volcanic ash incidents, new data collected from test flights and additional analysis from manufacturers over the past few days.” The agency described its approach as “a conservative model allowing a significant buffer on top of the level the experts feel may pose a risk."
Additional guidelines require airlines to conduct their own risk assessment and develop operational procedures to address any remaining risks; put in place an intensive maintenance ash damage inspection before and after each flight; and report any ash-related incidents to the CAA.