Half term getaway back on! Met Office under fire for being wrong

Ruth Doherty

Britons preparing to fly out on holiday can breathe a sigh of relief as the Met Office today confirmed that the volcanic ash cloud poses no threat to families who are heading off on a half-term getaway.

A spokesman said the situation was 'improving' with a reduced amount of ash drifting over the UK at 35,000 to 55,000 feet.

And the Civil Aviation Authority confirmed no flight from the UK would be disrupted at the weekend.

However despite the optimism, the Met Office emphasised that it was a forecast and their predictions were dependent on Mother Nature.

This statement come as Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary attacked the Met Office for a 'totally inaccurate' forecast that showed a dense cloud of ash engulfing the UK just in time for tomorrow's bank holiday and half-term getaway.

Mr O'Leary told Channel 4 News last night: 'You cannot shut airspace on the basis of these entirely inaccurate Met Office forecasts of where a volcano ash plume may move 2,000 miles south of Iceland. It makes no sense.'

He said that by only shutting off the airspace immediately around the volcano, the UK could avoid 'mass disruptions based on predictive models which are totally inaccurate and unreliable'.

On Tuesday night the organisation had insisted it stood by its prediction that an ash cloud of the highest density would cover the whole of the UK from 35,000ft to 55,000ft.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the new forecast meant the bank holiday getaway could go ahead without complications.

'The threat to the bank holiday has been lifted,' he announced.

He has also put in place a new structure to deal more efficiently with any future eruptions by Icelandic volcanoes.

In the event of further eruptions, Mr Hammond has asked controllers at air traffic body NATS and the Civil Aviation Authority to draw up procedures to let flights arrive and depart from the UK beneath the ash cloud, something which has never previously been allowed in UK airspace.

The new system would be more 'robust' and apply 'common sense', he added.

The planes would only start gaining altitude once they were safely clear of the 'red zone' – a technique known as 'underflying'.

Airlines and the CAA make decisions on whether to fly based on computer forecasts of the ash cloud made by the Met Office's Volcanic Advisory Centre.

The computer model – called NAME – takes into account wind and rain patterns to predict the movement and concentration of the ash cloud up to altitudes of 55,000 feet.

The Met Office insisted its forecasts were accurate, but said it relied on estimates of the type of ash coming out of the volcano.

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