EU nations agree to ease flight restrictions from Tuesday

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European transport ministers agreed to ease, from Tuesday, restrictions on flights imposed due to the ash cloud emanating from an Icelandic volcano, the EU commission announced.

"From tomorrow morning on, we should progressively see more planes start to fly," EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas told reporters after lengthy videoconference talks between European transport ministers.

"There cannot be any compromise on safety. All the decisions must be based on scientific evidence and expert analysis," he added, as European airlines and passengers endured a fifth day of flight cancellations.

The announcement was made simultaneously in Brussels and Madrid, where the Spanish Transport Minister Jose Blanco, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said that flights would be allowed "where the concentration of dust particles is reduced from 8:00 am tomorrow (0600 GMT Tuesday)."

The Irish Aviation Authority said in a statement that "in low contaminated areas, states should allow airlines to operate, fully supported by shared data, including advice from the scientific community."

A "limited no-fly zone," including buffer areas around areas where the volcanic ash makes flights hazardous, will be maintained, the Irish authority said.

In areas where there was no contamination there would be no restrictions, it added, saying "normal operations are not expected to be in place for up to three or four days."

Separately Britain, France and others announced that they would begin lifting their flight bans from Tuesday.

German flag carrier Lufthansa said it had received permission to fly home 15,000 passengers from Asia, North and South America and Africa, as Germany's DFS air safety agency extended to 2:00 am (0000 GMT) Tuesday the shutdown of its airspace.

Kallas underlined that the European transport ministers, who held the extraordinary talks amid growing discontent among airlines over the cost of the airspace closure, had agreed to intensify European coordination of airspace management.

Earlier Monday airlines urged governments to reopen routes, branding the flight ban a "European mess" and the economic fallout "greater than September 11".

"We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction at how governments have managed the crisis," Giovanni Bisignani, head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) told aviation reporters in Paris.

IATA, which represents the global airline industry, said companies are losing millions of euros per day and it urged governments to lift flight restrictions.

Spain's Blanco rejected the criticism from the airlines over the airspace closure.

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


© 2010 AFP

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