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BA jet completes Atlantic safety test flight

A British Airways Boeing 747 completed a successful test flight in "perfect" conditions and without encountering any difficulties, the airline said.

The jumbo jet, carrying BA chief Willie Walsh, took off from London's Heathrow Airport at 5.55pm yesterday before flying 550 miles due west of Cardiff, landing at Cardiff Airport in south Wales at 8.41pm.

The flight, which took the aircraft out over the Atlantic Ocean, lasted two hours and 46 minutes.

A BA spokesman said: "The conditions were perfect and the aircraft encountered no difficulties. It will now undergo a full technical analysis at British Airways' engineering base at Cardiff."

He added: "Initially it ascended to 10,000 feet, then increased altitude in stages of 5,000 feet, remaining for five minutes at each level before reaching 40,000 feet," a spokesman said.

"The aircraft stayed at 40,000 feet for an hour. Returning east, it descended across Ireland from 19,000 to 15,000 feet, landing at Cardiff at 8.41pm."

The jet taxied to the airline's maintenance facilities at Cardiff airport on arrival.

The voyage, which sought to gauge flight safety, was piloted by Captain Ian Pringle and Captain Stephen Hawkins.

Also on board were the company's director of flight operations, Stephen Riley, and the general manager of engineering, Robert Crew.

The British flag carrier was among a handful of European airlines which sent up aircraft on test flights yesterday.

The trip had been staged "in line with action taken by other European airlines", BA said.

The results of tests will be looked at further tomorrow before any firm conclusion is drawn.

Earlier today Dutch carrier KLM revealed it had flown a plane through the cloud of volcanic ash in Dutch airspace without suffering any damage.

The airline had planned to return seven planes without passengers to Amsterdam from Dusseldorf yesterday, with the hope of receiving permission to resume passenger operations as soon as possible.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines said that by midday it had flown four planes through what it described as a gap in the layer of microscopic dust over Holland and Germany.

The ash began spewing from an Icelandic volcano on Wednesday and has drifted across most of Europe, shutting down airports as far south and east as Bulgaria.

Air France, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines have also sent up test flights, although most travelled below the altitudes where the ash has been heavily concentrated.

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