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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 20:54 GMT 21:54 UK
Transatlantic flights resume
Passengers waiting at Miami International airport
The long wait may soon be over
Airlines are slowly resuming transatlantic flights after days of confusion and chaos at airports around the world.

The US Federal Aviation Authority began a partial lifting of the ban on flights by non-US airlines on Friday evening.

An empty British Airways Boeing 747 left Heathrow airport, London, at 2000BST on Friday, bound for JFK Airport in New York to pick up stranded passengers.

It is believed to be the first plane to leave the UK for New York since the terrorist attacks on the city on Tuesday.

A Virgin Atlantic flight left Heathrow for Newark International Airport, near New York, at 2230BST on Friday, a company spokeswoman said.

It was operating as a "humanitarian flight", with most of the passengers relatives of friends of people caught up in the terror attacks.

Services resume

A second empty BA flight is expected to leave Heathrow for Philadelphia later in the night, also to pick up passengers stranded in the US.

Both BA and Virgin are to resume services on Saturday.

Passengers waiting at airport
Some passengers have been stranded for three days
A BA spokeswoman said: "British Airways is very pleased to be able to return to the United States this evening.

"Our thoughts remain with all those people affected by this week's atrocities in the United States and with our colleagues at American and United Airlines."

Regular flights

The first commercial US-bound flight by a US carrier left London Heathrow late in the morning London time, and several planes coming from the US have already touched down at European airports.

Aviation officials said US airlines were expecting to run up to 50% of their regular flights on Friday, with 1,700 flights being tracked by air traffic control by 1300 GMT.

New security measures
All knives banned

Strict screening measures

Vehicles more carefully monitored

No scissors

No kerbside check-ins

Boarding area off-limit to everyone but passengers

Armed plain-clothes guards on some flights

A BA spokeswoman said the company was contacting customers impacted by disrupted schedules and priority would be decided "on compassionate grounds".

About 4,000 passengers flew to the US from Gatwick Airport although an airport spokesman said disruption to transatlantic flights would continue.

American Airlines said six flights have left Britain bound for the US - four from Heathrow and Gatwick, one from Glasgow and one from Birmingham.

The carrier cancelled two flights destined for JFK in New York. A plane is expected to depart for Chicago after 2100BST.

United Airlines had hoped for five departures to the US this afternoon, but as of 1730BST, all five were still awaiting clearance to take off. A spokeswoman said she hoped they could leave this evening.

Many cancellations

Many other European airlines including Germany's Lufthansa, Swissair and Austria Air have cancelled all flights to the US on Friday.

Air France has said that it is uncertain whether its US-bound planes will indeed leave as scheduled.

And Dutch KLM has issued a statement saying there is still insufficient clarity on additional security measures imposed by the FAA, adding that there are new regulations for airports as well as for airlines.

Asian carriers have also been prevented from resuming US flights, with Cathay Pacific Airways one of the only carriers to get flights through to Canada.

US airspace was officially opened to commercial aircraft at 1500 GMT on Thursday.

Tightened security

Airlines have warned passengers to allow for at least three hours of check-in time, because of extra security measures.

Security has been considerably tightened: teams of police officers, accompanied by German shepherd dogs, are patrolling hallways and all knives are banned.

Each airline and airport must be considered for approval on an individual basis.

Besides introducing stringent new security checks, US authorities plan to draft in Delta Force commandos to help protect civilian planes.

"Safety is always of paramount importance, and in these extraordinary times we intend to be vigilant as we remain committed to resuming commercial flights as soon as possible," Mr Mineta said.

An estimated 4,000 commercial aircraft - almost one third of the world's fleet - were grounded in the US shortly after Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Thatcher
reports from London's Heathrow Airport
See also:

14 Sep 01 | Business
Airlines bankruptcy warning
14 Sep 01 | Business
US markets to re-open on Monday
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