EU disagrees with airlines' criticism over airspace closure: Spain

19th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

The EU disagrees with airlines' criticism of the closure of airspace due to the ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano, its Spanish presidency said Monday, adding safety should be the main concern.

"We do not share the criticism made by airlines," Spanish Transport Minister Jose Blanco told a news briefing following a video conference of transport ministers from across the European Union.

"We are aware that they are going through a hard time. This situation is causing them important losses, but safety is paramount," he added.

Airspace across much of Europe has been closed since Thursday due to an ash cloud from the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano in the biggest flight disruption since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

But Blanco, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said European transport ministers agreed to ease from Tuesday restrictions on flights in areas "where the concentration of dust particles is reduced".

"This zone will be defined based on the available data which has been supplied by the various airlines which have carried out test flights under the supervision of national civil aviation authorities as well as scientific institutions specialised in the study of volcanos and weather offices."

Earlier, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Giovanni Bisignani, urged governments to reopen routes through the volcanic ash cloud over Europe after airlines successfully carried out test flights.

IATA, which represents the global airline industry, said companies are losing 200 million dollars (148 million euros) per day and it urged governments to reopen routes through the volcanic ash cloud over Europe after airlines successfully carried out test flights.

Air France-KLM said that it alone was losing 35 million euros per day while British Airways said lost revenue and one-off charges came to 15-20 million pounds (17-23 million euros, 23-30 million dollars) per day.

No-frills British airline easyJet said the chaos had so far cost it 45 million euros and it could lose an additional 5.7 million euros per day.

The massive setback is hitting the airlines just as they had begun to recover from the shock of the global economic crisis.

The EU said on Monday it was ready to authorise the same exceptional public aid that it had allowed for airlines in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Some major European carriers -- including Air France, British Airways and KLM -- reported no problems after launching flights to test fears that the ash cloud destroy jet engines.

Earlier Monday BA said an analysis of the test flight carried out by his airline on Sunday over the Atlantic with a Boeing 747 jumbo jet showed that the blanket airspace closure was not needed and should be lifted.

"The analysis we have done so far, alongside that from other airlines' trial flights, provides fresh evidence that the current blanket restrictions on airspace are unnecessary," said BA chief executive Willie Walsh who was on board the test flight.

© 2010 AFP

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