Monday, May 17, 2010

Air travellers face more disruption

Air passengers are facing further disruption due to volcanic ash clouds and impending industrial action by British Airways. Parts of British airspace were closed over the weekend as authorities imposed bans on aircraft flying to a number of airports after ash from the Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano began to sweep across the country. Last month volcanic ash severely disrupted travel around the globe resulting in thousands of passengers being stranded and causing massive losses for airlines. The problems may be compounded if a strike planned by British Airways' cabin staff goes ahead this week.

Strike threat

A series of strikes are due to affect flights over the next three weeks. The company is to go to the High Court later to try to stop the latest strikes by its cabin staff and seek an injunction, just 24 hours before the first of four separate five-day walkouts is due to begin.

At the same time, both the government and conciliation service Acas will be making attempts to persuade BA and the Unite union to reach a settlement. Earlier this month, Unite members rejected the airline's fresh deal on pay and working conditions. While details of that deal were not given, Unite said BA had failed to restore the travel perks it withdrew from staff involved in the previous strikes in March. The first strike is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, ending on 22 May, with the three further strikes planned to begin on 24 May, 30 May and 5 June.

BA intend to appeal to a judge to declare the strike ballot unlawful because it failed to meet a legal requirement to provide everyone who took part with a full breakdown of results - including how many votes were cast; how many voted for industrial action; how many voted against and the number of spoiled papers.

However, some within the union are threatening a "guerrilla campaign". The industrial action comes as BA prepares to announce record annual losses. It also comes on the back of further losses from the disruption brought about by the volcanic ash cloud last month. Court papers show that last month's volcanic ash lockdown cost BA up to £120 million on top of £45 million in extra losses from the seven days of strike action in March. 

In an appeal to staff, Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, said the strikes would only damage the airline and run the risk of redundancies. However Walsh has been accused of pursuing "petty, vindictive" actions against union members. Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary of Unite, said, "The reason [we are still in dispute] is that Mr Walsh is now taking petty, vindictive action by not putting our staff travel back on and at the same time victimising up to 50 of our people, five of whom have been sacked … it is absolutely scandalous."

Volcanic ash stops flights

As BA attempt to resolve their industrial dispute, other airlines were continuing to face problems with volcanic ash. A no-fly zone imposed over London was lifted at 7am, with flights grounded in other parts of the UK, including Scotland and Wales. However there are expected to be knock-on effects for passengers as Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports restrict the number of flights allowed to take off and land following the ban.

Passengers are being urged to check with their airlines before travelling. Restrictions are expected in parts of the UK until Tuesday, the air traffic authority NATS said. Meanwhile the spread of ash was also beginning to affect parts of Europe early Monday. Dutch TV reported that airports in Amsterdam and Rotterdam were to close for at least eight hours from 07:00 CET [05:00 GMT]. Eurocontrol said it expects that approximately 1,000 flights will be cancelled due to volcanic ash on Monday.

In a statement released by NATS, they said "The volcanic ash cloud continues to change shape and two key areas affect operations stretching from the South of England to Northern Ireland, and over much of mainland Scotland to the Shetland Isles. As a result, no-fly zones have been imposed by the CAA in these areas, for the period 07:00 local until 13:00 local today [Monday]." Airports within the no-fly zones include all those in Northern Ireland, Ronaldsway, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Northern Scotland. Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol and Farnborough are also in the no-fly zone.

Heathrow and Gatwick airports will be clear of the no-fly zone however restrictions will have to be applied due to their close proximity to the no-fly zone particularly affecting Gatwick inbounds, the air authority said.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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