REPORTS of a new ash cloud heading last night towards Britain dampened hopes raised earlier that the five-day flights lockdown in the North East was about to end.
Air traffic control company National Air Traffic Service (Nats) said last night that the “situation was worsening” in some areas.
But it said Scottish airports should be available from 7am today other airspace over England – including the North East – from 1pm, although not including the main London airports.
Earlier, Nats had told Newcastle Airport that it could reopen its airspace at 7am this morning. Airlines operating out of the city then announced the resumption of some links within the United Kingdom, as well as the Middle East and Europe, subject to changes.
The Scottish no-fly zone and other parts of the North were also due to allow planes to take off and land, though it was unclear which services in and out of Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley would be possible.
Airspace south of Tyneside to a line between Teesside and Blackpool was expected to be clear to resume a level of activity, governed by airport chiefs.
The lifting of flight bans on some parts of the UK came after forecasters claimed eruptions from the volcano responsible for the ash cloud had now “virtually ceased”.
The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC), based at the Met Office in London, said the eruptions of Mount Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland had now diminished with only small amounts of ash being ejected up to 6,000 feet in the atmosphere.
The Met Office said the VAAC report was “cause for well-grounded optimism” but warned that time was needed to ensure the ash cloud was dispersed.
Graeme Mason, head of planning and corporate affairs at Newcastle Airport, said last night: “We are delighted that our airspace is likely to open again. “As we speak, there is a huge logistical planning exercise under way with our airline and handling agent partners to secure as much flying as possible.
“But it will take time to get back to normal operating levels. There will not be an immediate return to a full flying programme as aircraft and crews may be out of position and restrictions may still exist in other areas of Europe.
“The team at the airport is working hard to normalise the situation as quickly as possible. We will provide further details of the flights when they become available.
“Our advice for passengers travelling from Newcastle is still to contact their airline or to check our website for flight information at www.newcastleinternational.co.uk”
A spokesman for NATS said the resumption of air services would be directed by the airports.
He added: “The volcanic eruption has reduced and the volcano is not currently emitting ash to altitudes that will affect the UK. Assuming there are no further significant ash emissions, we are now looking at a continuously improving situation.
“This is a dynamic and changing situation and is therefore difficult to forecast beyond 7am on Tuesday.
“It is now for airports and airlines to decide how best to utilise this opportunity. Passengers should contact their airlines to find out how this will affect their travel plans.” The Great North Air Ambulance has already resumed its service. A spokeswoman said: “This situation is being consistently monitored.
“After every flight the engines are inspected for any ash and are hosed out at the end of each shift.
“The team are constantly in touch with the relevant authorities, should the situation change.”
Airline Flybe said it hoped to start operating services from Newcastle from 10.05am today.
But the cost to airlines and other affected industries from the crisis has become immense. British Airways said last night that European carriers had asked the EU and national governments for financial compensation.
BA, which took a test flight through a successful run out across the Atlantic, said the flight restrictions had cost it between £15m and £20m a day.
Before the NATS announcements, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said two Royal Navy ships were to be used to help bring Britons home, with a third vessel also possibly being deployed.
The go-ahead for flights came as airlines pointed to successful test flights through closed airspace as a reason for lifting restrictions.
The International Air Transport Association was highly critical of the European response to the ash crisis which, it estimated, is costing the aviation industry around 200 million dollars (£130m) a day.
Meanwhile, ferry companies and train operators have been enjoying a travel boom in the absence of any UK plane travel. Channel Tunnel high-speed train company Eurostar said it was putting on extra trains every day this week.
Train operator East Coast is to run extra services throughout this week to help stranded travellers make it home.
Customers can check the latest train service information online at www.eastcoast.co.uk or by calling National Rail Inquiries on 0845 748 4950.