Page last updated at 16:53 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 17:53 UK

Heathrow skies silenced by Iceland volcanic ash cloud

by Dhruti Shah
BBC News, Hatton Cross

Ken Davies
Planespotter Ken Davies normally cannot hear the birds near Heathrow

The scream of plane engines is a familiar sound to people living under the Heathrow flight path but all is temporarily quiet near the west London airport.

This is because flights in and out of the UK and several other European countries have been suspended as ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland moves south.

The air traffic control service (Nats) has stopped flights entering and leaving UK airspace until 0700 BST on Friday.

'Birds singing'

Planespotter Ken Davies was standing on a grassy knoll near the airport as he watched one of the final planes out of Heathrow take off at around 1215BST.

With binoculars in hand, he explained how he tended to come to the same spot every few weeks.

He said: "There is very little activity going on. Nothing is moving. I had originally heard the planes were going to stop an hour earlier but the last one took off just a few minutes ago. We normally see one every minute but now it's just quiet.

Adesh Farmahan
Adesh Farmahan said he was planning to spend the day outdoors

"I saw a police helicopter a while ago but other than that, not much at all."

He said he had lived in the area for two years and had got used to the noise of the planes but the forced shutdown meant it was now possible to hear birdsong.

For airport worker Adesh Farmahan, the unexpected peace and quiet meant he would not have to keep his windows shut.

He has lived with his family in Myrtle Avenue for 24 years and much like retired Mr Davies, said he was more-or-less immune to the daily noise Heathrow produced.

He said: "It is very quiet though now - normally there is a lot of hubble especially when certain larger planes come. It was worse when we had Concorde planes - they were so loud and our windows and walls used to shake.

"But we now have triple glazing and we got used to it."

Airspace closed:

Republic of Ireland


Partial or planned closures:
Sweden (total closure by 2000 GMT)

Denmark (total by 1600 GMT)

Finland (northern airspace closed till 1200 GMT Friday)

Belgium (total from 1430 GMT)

Netherlands (being shut progressively)

"In the summer, we find it more of a problem because we have to open our windows but today I am going to go out and about in the sunshine."

But for a group huddled in the nearby offices of a coach company in Hatton Road, the silence came as a bit of a shock.

Secretary Barbara Dilello said: "I had heard a little bit about it this morning but I didn't realise all of the planes had been stopped.

"Normally we're OK but when we're on the phone, sometimes the customers say they can hear the planes as they're so loud. We've been forced to wear earplugs in the past," she said.

One of her colleagues, mechanic Darren Wetherall, said he was looking forward to a bit of "peace and quiet" while working on the coaches outside.

For Mina Ghasemi, a mother-of-two from Victoria who visits a friend in the Heathrow area every Thursday, the absence of the plane noise was also a welcome relief.

Sitting near the bike racks at Hatton Cross station, she said the west London airport was normally too "busy and crowded with too much going on".

Dutch travellers
There are no ashes, no airplanes, no nothing
Maarten Mensink

She said: "When I come here every week, it's always so loud with so many planes flying overhead."

"I heard about the ash stopping the planes while I was on the Underground and I wasn't sure what would be happening.

"But I will suggest to my friend that we spend some time outside today because it is nicer."

Not far away on the East Perimeter Road, Dutch travellers Niels Teusink, Wouter van der Veer and Maarten Mensink sat outside a hotel - having booked in for the night after finding out their long-awaited trip to New York would be ending in London because of the cancellations.

Mr Teusink said: "We found out we were on the last flight to get out of Amsterdam and although the boarding gate staff told us not to worry about anything, as we were landing the pilot told us we would not be able to continue."

Mr van der Veer said there were queues everywhere at Heathrow but the three men were given vouchers by British Airways to pay for a hotel stay and meals.

As they sat outside in the sun, Mr Mensink said it was surreal being so close to a busy airport but with "no planes flying overhead at all".

He said: "There are no ashes, no airplanes, no nothing."

Extent of Iceland volcano ash cloud

The volcanic eruption in Iceland on Wednesday night sent plumes of ash thousands of feet into the air. The cloud has spread across the UK to Europe.
The spread of the ash cloud at 20-30,000ft raised concerns for air safety, forcing at least 12 countries to restrict or halt flights in their airspace.
The eruptions from the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano continue to pump out ash clouds sporadically, which means the disruption is set to continue.
Although the cloud is too high to pose a health risk, people with breathing problems have been advised to take extra care if it falls to ground level.
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