WEARY travellers Alan and Lynette Scambler arrived back in the North East last night on board a coach they had hired to ferry them from Paris.
They pulled up outside Newcastle International Airport just two and a half hours before airports in England were allowed to take flights again.
Amid growing recriminations about the decision to ground flights in the United Kingdom, the Civil Aviation Authority last night sought to defuse the situation.
It said in a statement said that the situation with regard to ash from an erupting volcano in Iceland was “without precedent” and that the decision to ground flights had been made based on “thorough gathering of data and analysis”.
“The major barrier to resuming flight has been understanding tolerance levels of aircraft to ash,” the CAA said. “Manufacturers have now agreed increased tolerance levels in low ash density areas.”
Transport secretary Lord Adonis said safety was the “paramount concern”, but research into the effects of the volcanic ash had led to a “better” understanding of the implications.
“Since the flight restrictions were imposed, the CAA have been working around the clock with the aircraft manufacturing industry, the airlines and the research community to better understand how different concentrations of ash affect aircraft engines,” he said.
“As a result, the CAA has now established a wider area in which it is safe to fly, consistent with the framework agreed by the EU transport ministers yesterday.
“In addition to this change in restrictions, we are maintaining increased capacity to help passengers get home. In total there are an extra 20,000 passenger places a day across Eurostar, Eurotunnel and the Channel ferries.”
Before the restrictions were lifted, however, one flight was diverted last night to Newcastle from its intended destination of Gatwick Airport. And at least two coaches carrying people who had flown to the continent from the North East and been unable to get home also arrived.
One of them had been organised by the Scamblers who had set out for a three-day visit to Paris and intended to fly back to Newcastle last Thursday.
After days of waiting and hoping that their Easyjet flight would leave from Charles de Gaulle Airport outside the French capital, the Berwick couple rallied 50 others from the United Kingdom in their hotel to charter their own coach.
Driving through the night from Paris to a car ferry at Calais, they made it to Dover yesterday morning and back to Tyneside at 7.30pm last night. A visibly emotional Alan, 57, and Lynette, 56, who run a health food business, said they were ecstatic to be home.
Alan said: “At times you wonder if you’ll be sitting in a hotel or an airport for ever. It spoiled our trip, but I guess there’s not a lot you can do about a volcano.
“Instead of hanging about, we called a coach company in Luton and they sent a 50-seater straight to Paris to pick us up.
“We just had to take the bull by the horns and get ourselves home.”
Meanwhile, the first diverted flight to land at Newcastle last night was an Air Transit Boeing 757 from Toronto, Canada, which landed at 7.45pm.
Alexandra Mehra, 21, from Kingston upon Thames in London, said passengers were told of the diversion when they were just an hour away from Gatwick.
The Kingston University forensic sciences student, who had been to Canada to visit a friend, said: “It’s not London but it’s the UK at least. I’ve never been so happy to be in Newcastle.
“I’ve been stuck in Toronto since Saturday and I was desperate to get back to hand in important course work.
“The airline has organised coaches for us back to London overnight and I’m hoping to be home by the morning.”
Also on board the Canada flight was Suki Kirupa, 26, who lives just outside Toronto. She was travelling with her young son, Jaraan, 2, to visit her mother who lives in central London.
“I’ve never even heard of Newcastle before today and I still have no idea where I am,” said Ms Kirupa, who is originally from Sri Lanka.
“It’s been horrendous from start to finish. The organisation has been terrible and we’re being herded around without being told what is happening.”
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways, welcomed the lifting of the restrictions.
He said: “Safety has been at the forefront of everybody’s minds while reaching this decision.
“We are now going to start the difficult task of getting our stranded customers home. This is an airlift which has been unprecedented.”
He said “lessons can be learned“ and added: “There will be plenty of time for a post-mortem of what has happened over the last few days.”
Page 3 - First flight lands at Newcastle Airport >>
First flight lands at Newcastle Airport
NEWCASTLE airport yesterday opened its doors to welcome the first flight to land in England since UK airspace was closed – even though it only had six passengers on board.
An Eastern Airways flight from Aberdeen touched down at 9.40am, part of a phased reopening of UK airspace that saw the airport begin operations at 7am.
Craig Polatajque, 42, from Aberdeen, was among the passengers disembarking the plane.
He said: “The flight was fine. It was a bit bumpy but I wasn’t nervous at all.
“I’m going to be staying in Newcastle until Friday for business and hopefully I can make it back OK.”
The first flight to leave Newcastle Airport in nearly a week took off for Aberdeen an hour later.
Adam Grundy, a 25-year-old offshore worker, was on board after finding out early yesterday morning that he was able to fly to a two-day course in the Scottish city.
Mr Grundy, from York, said: “I travelled to Newcastle this morning because it was the only way to get a flight to my course.
“I wasn’t sure until the last minute whether I would be able to go.
“I’m not worried about being on the first flight out of here at all.”