Skip to main content

Britain adjusts flight rules for volcanic ash


(AP Photo/Chris Clark)

By David Stewart White
Updated May 15, 2010

British air traffic authorities have announced a new aerial pathway through the volcanic ash that has plagued the skies over the United Kingdom and Europe.  The new "time limited zone" allows airlines to fly through medium density ash concentrations if aircraft manufacturers certify that the practice will not cause safety issues.

Immediately after Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano clouded European skies with ash, Britain's bureaucracy reacted swiftly and dramatically.  Air traffic authorities simply shut down the United Kingdom's airspace. For nearly six days, the UK was a virtual no-fly zone, along with much of northern Europe.  Hundreds of thousands of passengers were stranded around the globe. Airports  initially looked like refugee camps, and eventually like ghost towns as most flights were canceled. 

Amid the chaos a few voices began to question the all-or-nothing flight ban. Airlines began test flights to demonstrate that modern aircraft could safely fly over, under, around, and even through moderate ash concentrations.  British Airways CEO Willie Walsh, himself a pilot, was aboard one test flight. And while they had selfish economic reasons to push for a loosening of restrictions, airlines pointed to more reasonable volcanic restrictions employed in the United States.  The protests lead to some loosening of flight limits after the six day shutdown, but airlines insisted that the restrictions were still too strict.

(AP Photo/Brynjar Gauti)

High concentrations of airborne volcanic ash pose a danger to aircraft when particles are ingested into jet engines. Aircraft entering dense ash plumes in the past have experienced engine shutdowns.

Shifting ash concentrations over the UK and Europe may continue to cause flight delays, cancellations, and airport closings.


For more info: