London, England — More than two dozen planes landed at Europe’s busiest airport early Wednesday, as restrictions began easing after five days of disruptions caused by last week’s volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Twenty-five planes from around the world touched down at London’s Heathrow Airport by 7:25 a.m. local time Wednesday (2:25 a.m. ET), but none has yet taken off. The airport said it is coordinating with airlines before the first flight takes off. Most passengers are heeding the advice of the airport to call their airline first before heading to the airport.
The new arrivals followed the landing of the first commercial airliner — a British Airways flight from Vancouver, British Columbia — there late Tuesday.
Passengers aboard British Airways Flight 084 broke out in applause as the plane landed shortly before 10 p.m. (5 p.m. ET), just over an hour after Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority announced that it would reopen British airspace.
No commercial flight had landed at Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world, since Thursday afternoon. All other British airports were also set to reopen at 10 p.m., Transport Secretary Lord Andrew Adonis said after the aviation authority’s announcement.
Airspace will reopen in phases, and some “no-fly zones” will remain in place where concentrations of ash are at unsafe levels, the CAA said. The restrictions, however, will be much less than what commercial airliners faced in the past week.
NATS, the country’s air traffic control agency, issued a statement late Tuesday saying that most restrictions on British airspace had been lifted “with the exception of an area over the northwest of Scotland which continues to be affected by a dense concentration of volcanic ash.”
The flight from Vancouver was one of more than two dozen British Airways flights already in the air bound for London when the CAA announcement was made.They took off hoping there would be a window of opportunity to land the planes at Heathrow or Gatwick airports, a company representative said.The 25 planes took off from the West Coast of the United States, Africa, India and other locations in Asia. A 26th plane that had hoped to reach London was sent to Brussels, Belgium, instead, British Airways said.
“We are very pleased that the aviation authorities have opened U.K. airspace to enable us to begin in earnest the task of bringing our stranded customers home,” British Airways said in a statement. But the airline warned it would take “some considerable time” before it can get its full schedule back on track. The airline said it hopes to operate all long-haul flights out of Heathrow and Gatwick airports by Wednesday.
“This will help to get more aircraft, pilots and cabin crew back who are currently in the United Kingdom out to cities around the world to help customers still awaiting a flight,” BA said. Eruptions from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano are weakening, authorities in Iceland reported, but volcanic ash already in the air continued to blow toward Britain.
The decision to reopen airspace came after the CAA issued new guidance on the massive ash cloud snarling air traffic.