For tens of thousands of air travellers stranded around the world following the volcanic ash crisis the nightmare is finally over as Britain and other European countries on Wednesday lifted the ban on flights though airlines warned that even if there was no further disruption it would take up to a week to clear the backlog.

The decision to reopen the airspace came amid mounting pressure from the airlines industry which was facing crippling losses and had conducted its own test-flights to show that it was now safe to fly. Some, however, were still sceptical with Martin Chalk, president of the European Cockpit Association representing some 40,000 European pilots, saying there was no “definitive answer to whether it is safe [to fly] or not''.

Civil aviation authorities asked airlines to run ash-damage tests before and after each flight. This could lead to delays and cancellations.

A semblance of normality, meanwhile, started to return as Heathrow and other major European airports sprung back to life after six days with passengers erupting in joy at the news that they could finally return home.

Eurocontrol, the European air traffic body, said it was expecting almost 75 per cent of European flights to operate.

The initiative to lift the ban came from mainland Europe with France and Germany, among others, taking the lead. Within hours, Britain followed suit and the first flight — from Vancouver — landed at Heathrow around 10 p.m. on Tuesday.

“It's good to be back,'' said Neil Rodgers, the first person to come through the arrivals gate.

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