Page last updated at 03:34 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 04:34 UK

Test flight takes off between Devon and Cornwall

Plymouth test flight
The plane was airborne for about 30 minutes

A Devon-based airline has carried out a test flight from Plymouth to Newquay, Cornwall, to assess a continuing threat from a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland.

The Air Southwest plane took off at about 1730 BST on Monday after it was granted permission from the Civil Aviation Authority.

It returned to Plymouth 30 minutes later. The airline said it hoped to have results as soon as possible.

All Flybe and Air Southwest planes at Exeter and Plymouth were cancelled.

Peter Davies, managing director of Air Southwest, said of the Plymouth test flight: "We want to make sure that the aircraft is capable of flying through the ash and not dangerous at all."

'Thumb twiddling'

Experts fear rock, glass and sand particles from the volcanic ash from Iceland could jam aircraft engines.

Jim French, the managing director of Flybe, has questioned whether the "no-fly zone" is necessary.

"This is the first time in the UK and Europe we've had such a situation, but others have experienced such situations in the past," he told BBC News.

"Let's use their expertise to make sure we're all doing the best we can to repatriate people, to get people home and to get commerce and business moving again."

Exeter Airport said the disruption had huge cost implications.

"There's a lot of thumb twiddling going on," airport spokesman Stephen Ayres said.

"It's a big empty space, so if anybody's got any ideas as to what to do with an empty airport, we'd welcome suggestions."

The Devon and Cornwall Business Council has estimated the region's economy lost at least £8m last week alone.

'Fortnight wait'

Air traffic control body Nats said Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of northern England might resume flights from 0900 BST on Tuesday but the presence of a new volcanic ash cloud could cause further disruption.

It added it was possible that restrictions on flying in the rest of England and Wales could be lifted later in the day.

However, people attempting to return to Devon or Cornwall have been told they may have very long waits for flights.

BBC South West Business Correspondent Neil Gallacher, who is attempting to returning to the UK from Japan, has been told he faces a two-week wait.

He said: "According to my airline, Emirates, I won't be getting back for a bafflingly long time.

"I can leave Osaka tonight [Monday] as planned. But, once I get to their Dubai hub, there's no onward flight to London.

"What surprises me is that I won't be rejoining work or family for nearly another fortnight. That's the soonest they've been able to offer me space on a UK flight."

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