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April 18, 2010

British Government Enlists Royal Navy to Alleviate Air Closure

Flights over Britain and Northern Europe are grounded for the fifth day in a row because of a cloud of volcanic ash in the atmosphere that is a danger to jet engines. The British government has enlisted the Royal Navy to help bring stranded Britons home.

With no flights flying in Britain and only 30 percent of the normal flights expected to operate in Europe, hundreds of thousands of passengers are stranded. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says his government is doing everything it can to help its nationals get home. A main route is from continental Europe across the English Channel.

"We have put on extra capacity. Ferries will run at more than 40 thousand passengers across the Channel; Eurostar will be more than 20,000," said Mr. Brown. "The channel tunnel itself will take more than 20,000, so these are big increases in capacity."

Mr. Brown says three Royal Navy ships will supplement commercial ship services and a ship that was already headed to Spain to bring British troops returning from Afghanistan may carry civilians, as well.

"Obviously we're going to need more capacity in the next few days," said Mr. Brown. Ark Royal will be sent to the channel, equally HMS Ocean will be available at channel ports as soon as possible to help people come to Britain and we are sending Albion via Spain to look at what we might do in addition to bringing Three Rifles (military unit in Afghanistan) home to add to its numbers as it travels back from Spain."

The British prime minister has enlisted the help of his Spanish counterpart, Jose Luis Rodiguez Zapatero, who has offered Spanish airports as a hub for British passengers stranded further afield to get into Europe.

"We have large numbers of travelers who are caught in Asia and in America and the main route home that is available at the moment is through the airports that are open in Europe and that is in Spain," he said.

Mr. Brown also spoke to the president of European Commission, Jose Manuel Barosso, on monetary compensation for airlines and passengers.

"This is a shared European problem and he is very clear that there should be a shared European approach and I hope that we can see the European Solidarity fund or other funds to help not just airlines but to help people who have been stranded," said Mr. Brown

European Council Transport ministers are to meet Monday to further discuss the air transport situation. All flights over Britain are canceled, at least until Tuesday morning.