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Ash cloud threat to London International Wine Fair

The Icelandic volcanic ash cloud which has played havoc with European air travel for the past month is threatening to cause major problems ahead of the start of the London International Wine Fair tomorrow.

Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports resumed limited flights this morning at 7am having been closed since Sunday, but Gatwick is due to remain closed to arrivals until 1pm and significant delays are expected to last well into tomorrow at all London airports.

Even if the cloud clears above London airspace in time, visitors travelling to London from Europe could face severe disruption as the cloud passes over them in the next 24 hours, with both Amsterdam and Rotterdam airports due to close for at least eight hours from 5am this morning.

Spanish winery Bodegas Paternina has already confirmed to the drinks business today that its Spanish representatives will not be attending the fair due to travel problems caused by the cloud.

Network Rail has pledged to do everything it can to help stranded passengers reach London from airports in the North, with Virgin Trains making 7,000 extra seats available today on routes between Birmingham and Glasgow and Edinburgh, and between London Euston and Glasgow.

Eurostar is also putting on extra services through the Channel Tunnel after the cloud caused misery for thousands of UK travellers over the weekend, mainly in the North.

Airspace over Northern Ireland was the first to close on Saturday, then as the cloud moved south, Manchester closed at lunchtime on Sunday, with Birmingham following suit by teatime.

James Murray, event director at LIWF organisers Brintex, is hopeful the cloud will clear quickly.

“It’s too early to say whether the current travel issues will affect attendance at the fair, however this is clearly a concern," he said.

"It is a matter that is out of our control and we can only hope that disruption is kept to a minimum. The one thing we do know is that the trade are a resilient bunch and will do all they can to attend.”

Alan Lodge, 17.05.2010

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