Fingers crossed at Norwich airport as volcano ash spreads

Airports in the region are bracing themselves for possible disruption later this week as ash from an erupting Icelandic volcano hits UK airspace.

On Saturday the Grimsvotn volcano erupted prompting fears of a repeat of the travel chaos last April caused by the Eyjafjallajokull eruption which saw flights over Europe grounded for six days and passengers stranded all over the world.

Experts at Europe's air traffic control organisation, Eurocontrol, have indicated that particles from the Grimsvotn volcano could reach Scotland by today and southern England by the end of the week, depending on wind direction.

The eruption has prompted staff at the region's airports, including Norwich International Airport and Stansted, to prepare themselves as best they can for potential disruption.

Andrew Bell, chief executive of Norwich International Airport, which lost a six-figure sum as a result of last year's ash cloud, said: 'I couldn't believe the news a year on almost to the day.

'We've got the same issues again but with the benefit of a year that's passed an awful lot has changed at a regulatory level to ensure that the blanket air ban which really disrupted people last year is very unlikely to happen again this time.'

Mr Bell said as with bad weather conditions passengers travelling from the airport should check with their tour operator or airline before travelling.

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There is currently no impact on any flights to or from the region's airports, but an aviation industry source said if the volcano continues to erupt at same intensity ash cloud could reach the west of the UK on Thursday or Friday.

However, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it was confident that a new Europe-wide safety regime introduced after the Eyjafjallajokull eruption last year would reduce disruption significantly and avoid the continental shutdown that stranded millions.

Under previous guidelines, aeroplanes were summarily grounded if there was any volcanic ash in the air. Now, airlines can fly through ash plumes if they have a safety case demonstrating that their fleets can handle medium or high-level densities of ash.

A CAA spokesman said most major airlines already have safety cases for medium-density ash clouds. He said: 'We are in a much better position than last time. Safety will still be paramount but we will be able to drastically reduce disruption compared to last time, provided there is not a huge amount of high-density ash.' The spokesman said a similar level of ash to the Eyjafjallajokull incident would not result in a mass-grounding. 'It will be a different picture.'

The Grimsvotn volcano began erupting on Sunday, causing flights to be cancelled at Iceland's main Keflavik airport after it sent a plume of ash smoke and steam 12 miles (19km) into the air.

Experts have said the eruption was unlikely to have the dramatic impact that the Eyjafjallajokull volcano had in April 2010.

However if it does passengers are likely to not only face disruption but also difficulty in trying to be recompensded after it emerged a number of insurers, including Aviva, that previously paid out claims will not this time.

For flight information at Norwich International Airport log onto www.norwichairport.co.uk/ or Stansted log onto www.stanstedairport.com/

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