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Volcanic ash grounds all UK flights

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An ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano has grounded all but emergency flights above Britain, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. Skip related content

With the high-flying ash a threat to aircraft, air traffic control company Nats closed all controlled UK airspace until at least 7am on Friday.

But Nats dismissed any suggestion it had over-reacted, saying safety was paramount.

The microscopic particles which make up volcanic ash pose a threat to aircraft because they can affect visibility and get sucked into aircraft engines, causing them to shut down.

Airports across the country, which had been able to handle some early-morning arrivals and departures before the flight ban, effectively shut down from noon – and passengers were warned to expect more disruption on Friday.

Normally about 1,300 flights and 180,000 passengers go in and out of Heathrow every day, while Gatwick Airport would expect to handle 679 flights carrying 80,000 passengers. On Thursday, only 168 flights passed through Gatwick.

The ash, from the Icelandic mountain Eyjaffjalljokull, also caused airport and aircraft movement shutdowns in other parts of Europe including France, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Holland.

Einar Kjartansson, a geophysicist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, said: “It is likely that the production of ash will continue at a comparable level for some days or weeks. But where it disrupts travel, that depends on the weather. It depends how the wind carries the ash.”

It was not the first time air traffic has been halted by a volcano, but such widespread disruption has not been seen since the September 11 terror attacks.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he sympathised with those affected by the situation but stressed that safety must come first.

Source: Press Association

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