Airline passengers have had their travel plans disrupted as around 500 flights in Europe were cancelled yesterday because of the volcanic ash cloud spreading from an Icelandic volcano. Although the situation is expected to improve, some services in the north of England and Scotland could still be affected.

Nats, the country’s air traffic control body, said the Met Office had advised that UK airspace should be free of any ash by early Wednesday. It added that it would continue to monitor the situation and provide updates. The German Meteorological Service has said that airports in the north of the country would have to close for a time as levels of ash in the atmosphere continue to rise.

UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said he was positive the situation was improving and that winds forecast for the coming days would push the ash away from Britain. He added that the plume of ash coming from the volcano had started to decrease in both intensity and height.

Airlines wishing to fly through airspace where ash is present have to apply to the Civil Aviation Authority for permission to take their aircraft through areas where the density is considered to be medium or high. The CAA said that some had already applied for permission to take passenger jets through medium-density ash.

British Airways sent an Airbus A320 up yesterday to test the skies over the north of the country and parts of Scotland. It has returned to Heathrow where it will be examined by safety experts.