Page last updated at 19:08 GMT, Saturday, 17 April 2010 20:08 UK

Volcanic ash cloud forces more UK flight restrictions

Map showing spread of volcanic ash from Iceland

Restrictions on flights to and from the UK have been extended until 0700 BST on Sunday, as the danger to planes from volcanic ash from Iceland continues.

A few domestic flights may be able to take off from Scotland and Northern Ireland before 1900 BST on Saturday, but most planes will remain grounded.

British Airways has cancelled all short haul flights on Sunday but is still reviewing long haul services.

Officials warn that European airspace could be disrupted for several days.

The National Air Traffic Control Service (Nats) said Met Office forecasts showed the ash cloud progressively covering the whole of the UK after 1900 BST. A further update is expected at about 2100 BST.

Lorna Gordon: "There's also a problem of this ash clogging the filters of cars"

Nats head of safety Paul Haskins said: "It's a very dynamic situation at the moment.

"Looking at the Met Office forecast we know from about seven o'clock onwards this evening that the ash cloud will again envelop UK air space and the restrictions will take effect."

Prof Brian Golding, head of forecasting research at the Met Office, said it was likely the volcanic cloud would remain over the UK for several days.

"We need a change of wind direction that stays changed for several days and there is no sign of that in the immediate future," he added.

Eurocontrol the agency which co-ordinates air traffic control in 38 nations, said it expected only 6,000 flights in European airspace on Saturday, compared to 22,000 flights usually.

"Forecasts suggest that the cloud of volcanic ash will persist and that the impact will continue for at least the next 24 hours," it said in a statement.

A plume of ash 8.5km (5.3 miles) high was visible in Iceland on Saturday.

EXPERT ADVICE

The disruption has affected hundreds of thousands of travellers since Wednesday when the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano began erupting for the second time in a month.

UK-based Aaron Soni is one of many thousands of Britons stranded by the ash cloud.

He had been visiting his parents in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and son.

Mr Soni was due to return to the UK on Saturday, but was told not to bother checking with his airline until Thursday.

He said his and his wife's work commitments were "in chaos" and their son was due to return to school on Monday.

"It's getting expensive to pay all the bills," he said.

One of the UK's biggest fresh fruit importers said business had ground to a halt because of the disruption.

Anthony Pile, chairman of Blue Skies, said the company was losing £100,000 a day as produce was rotting in Brazil and Africa.

This is the first time we have ever done a runway inspection in daylight! We do these four times a year to check every inch of Heathrow's runways - usually in the middle of the night
Runway inspections took place during daylight for the first time at Heathrow

"Losing a day is a disaster, losing three days is unbelievable and I don't know what we're going to do if we go into the middle of next week," he said.

Royal Mail air mail deliveries to the US are being taken over land to be flown from a Spanish airport.

Mail for Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and other parts of Europe is being transferred to road services where possible.

British Airways said it had no insurance against suspending flights and refunding customers as a result of the ash cloud, and would have to absorb the costs itself.

A spokeswoman told the BBC it was because it had "no insurance against natural disasters".

In other developments:

• Eurostar added eight extra services on Saturday, but passengers are advised not to turn up without a booking

• P&O ferry crossings between Portsmouth and Bilbao are fully booked until Wednesday, as are those from Hull to Zeebrugge and Rotterdam over the weekend

• Thomson Airways, the airline for Thomson and First Choice holidays, said all outbound flights over the weekend had been cancelled

• Flights between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have been halted after reports of ash on an aircraft

• Ryanair cancelled all flights to and from northern Europe until 1300 BST on Monday. It will keep running in southern and central Europe, although flight restrictions are being imposed in Hungary and Romania

Unable to catch flights, many travellers across northern Europe have sought other means of transport, which has seen people filling trains, buses and ferries.

The Prince of Wales and Foreign Secretary David Miliband have cancelled their journey to the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

And celebrities have not been immune to the travel disruption.

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB

US singer Whitney Houston had to take a car ferry from Britain to Ireland for a concert in Dublin and comedian John Cleese reportedly paid $5,100 (£3,319) for a taxi ride from Oslo to Brussels.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it was also affected by the restrictions.

An MoD spokeswoman said: "We are under the same restrictions as everybody else, above 3,000ft. Below 3,000ft essential helicopter operations, such as search and rescue operations, have resumed."

British glaciologist Dr Matthew Roberts, working at Iceland's Met Office, said the volcano was now producing less ash.

"There haven't been any further significant outbursts of volcanic ash from the eruption site," he said.

"However, there is still volcanic ash in the atmosphere and there's a lag effect between material being emitted from the volcano and the ash plume drifting into European airspace."

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office 24-hour consular helpline has been set up on 020 7008 0000 for people stuck abroad.



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