Deliverance Day minus 17. Lord Adonis, Transport Secretary, has announced this evening that in addition to the Scottish and Newcastle airports, already opened for limited time operations, all UK airports would reopen from 22.00. No doubt, in a General Election campaign, this will be spun to demonstrate decisive action by a Labour government. Gordon Brown is evoking images of Winston Churchill sending in the Royal Navy to lift stranded Brits from the French beaches [well ports] after they have fought their way by coach from Madrid to Calais and Dunkirk. In fact, he has capitulated to the air-assault from the Aer Luftwaffe in the shape of Willie Walsh and British Airways. GBs missive yesterday to the Foreign Office – endorsed Action this Day – has been ignored by David Milliband. No sign of the hundred coaches lining up at Madrid Airport or the Ark Royal and Ocean docking in French Ports. The Royal Navy had already dispatched the Albion to Northern Spain to pick up troops. GB is left looking impotent and there is further suspicion of infighting and back-stabbing between the brothers Milliband and the Brown/Balls wings. The signs are that Labour is resigned to losing the Election and the New Labour project is over.
The situation with regard to the Icelandic volcanic eruption has not changed and the ash cloud continues to spread with the UK and Ireland particularly vulnerable as they are closest. The situation is continuously changing both as to direction of wind drift and height, and the multi-level seams. Predicting these variables is uncertain so that routing aircraft over, under or through the ash clouds is like threading a needle. It might be possible to allow a short-haul flight to depart with some certainty that their landing in the UK can be guaranteed. What British Airways did, by allowing twenty-six long haul flights to take off on return flights when UK airports were still closed, was irresponsible.
Even now when the UKs airports are open, they could be closed again at short notice. We do not want airliners falling from the sky and should err on the side of safety. The only safe option for passengers and those on the ground under the flight paths is to wait for the volcanic eruption to cease or the winds to change direction. None of the British media are reporting it, but Ireland’s RTE has reported Iceland’s President warning that European and international experts need to draw up plans on how to cope with a possible eruption from an even bigger volcano named Katla. It has a history of erupting twice a century and last erupted in 1918. Just when you thought it was safe, Katla blows her top.
Meanwhile back at Labour campaign HQ it has been a busy day. Campaign supremo Lord Mandelson sees that Gordon has egg on his face and the campaign is going pear-shaped. Gets on the phone to Lord Adonis who gets his knuckles rapped and told to “do something you twit”. When Peter says jump, you ask how high. Andrew tells his Department mandarins not to panic but they must put pressure on the Civil Aviation Authority to alter the rules of engagement, after Willie Walsh returns safely from his joy ride over the Atlantic and threatens to claim compensation from the government. The CAA then finds that European airlines are over flying UK airspace and contacts Rolls-Royce to see if their aero-engines are tougher than what they said they were. R-R warns that NATO is experiencing problems with their fighter aircraft and has detected engine damage causing groundings. Willie Walsh delivers the CAA with an ultimatum, open the airports or pay up. BA launches its air armada with first landings at Gatwick and Heathrow due at 22.05. The National Air Traffic management who has been acting strictly within the rules are leant on by the CAA and overruled. They must open the skyways by 22.00. With second to spare the landing lights go on and the Treasury breaths a sigh of relief.
Willie Walsh wins and BA survive to fight the Unite union another dispute. Who says money doesn’t talk. See what happens when you put an Irishman in charge of a British airline. The Irish airline Aer Lingus has its own problems since Willie left them. They have appointed a German chief executive and been rebranded as Herr Lingus. Oh joy, and thanks for the European single market and the open skies policy.