Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the UK Civil Aviation commented today: "The volcanic ash cloud over Europe created an unprecedented situation for aviation and in particular the UK with its greater proximity to the eruption. At no other time has such an extensive amount of volcanic ash settled, in stagnant weather conditions, over some of the most congested airspace in the world.
The existing international guidance for 'planes encountering volcanic ash is to AVOID AVOID AVOID so allowing for zero interaction between jet engines and ash. This guidance assumed there would continue to be flight paths which would allow avoidance but in this case there was not the space to do so. "Of course we wanted to get Britains skies reopened as quickly as possible but could not do this without establishing what was safe and what wasn't, based on robust scientific data from the current ash cloud. Far from being pushed into decisions by airlines or Europe it was the CAA who led the way. We undertook much of this research and led the international discussions and investigation which brought manufacturers to agree an accurate and evidence based set of restrictions and agree engine tolerance levels to ash density. We achieved what often takes years in 96 hours. When you are dealing with people's lives it is not enough to say, this guidance looks a bit restrictive, lets just make up a less restrictive one, you have to agree new safety guidelines that are evidence based. "The CAA, which is the UKs independent safety regulator based its decision to re-open airspace on robust scientific evidence and data; within five hours of receiving agreement from manufacturers UK airspace was re-opened. Our work has now been adopted as the standard across Europe and we're confident this should provide the British public with the assurance it deserves."