Air travel to and from Shetland returned to normal today and the prospect of further major disruption has receded after a new agreement was reached to allow planes to fly through medium density ash from the Icelandic volcano.
Sumburgh Airport re-opened at 7pm last night after all flights were cancelled yesterday and Loganair, which operates the Flybe franchise, hopes to return services to normal although there will be some knock-on effects from the earlier disruption.
Britain’s air traffic body NATS announced last night that following extensive efforts by its own officials and those from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), airlines and other organisations a sufficient body of evidence had been gathered to allow aircraft to fly safely through medium density ash.
“NATS has been at the heart of this ground-breaking proposal and our people have worked very closely with the Irish Aviation Authority, CAA and the rest of the industry to make it happen,” said NATS chief executive Richard Deakin.
“Every leading player in aviation has been helping to build vast amounts of data about the effects of volcanic ash over the last month. There is mounting evidence that aircraft can fly safely through areas of medium density, provided some additional precautions are taken. This is now what has been agreed.”
Mr Deakin added that teams at NATS had been working all hours to create new and enhanced procedures to make sure the changes could take place as safely and as effectively as possible.
Previously, the CAA has dealt with the ash cloud by applying no fly zones in areas of greatest ash density and enhanced procedures zones in areas of low density, which were introduced during the eight days of disruption last month.
The agreement means a third time limited zone is now being introduced for areas of medium ash density.
A NATS spokesman said: “As a result of this change, there are no predicted restrictions on UK airspace in the immediate future. If that picture changes, NATS will update its website as necessary.”
Earlier, Loganair commercial director Jonathan Hinkles said forecasts suggested the ash would move off to the east by today, allowing the restoration of services.
“Forecasts for tomorrow (Tuesday 18th May) indicate that the no fly zone affecting Shetland and Orkney is likely to be rescinded as the ash cloud continues to move in an easterly direction.”
For information from Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd see www.hial.co.uk/sumburgh-airport/
Among those affected by the disruption were patients due to attend a breast cancer screening clinic. The practitioners are travelling to Shetland by boat tonight. A spokeswoman for NHS Shetland said they will be holding the clinic tomorrow instead and will be liaising with patients who are due to be seen.