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Airlines, EU governments lock horns over continued no-fly rules
Airlines have slammed EU governments over strict no-fly rules and delays in re-opening airspace closed by the volcanic ash cloud. The travel chaos is costing airlines an estimated $250 million a day.
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AFP - Airlines urged governments to reopen routes through the volcanic ash cloud over Europe on Monday, branding the flight ban a "European mess" and the economic fallout "greater than September 11".
"Risk assessment should be able to help us reopen certain corridors, if not the entire airspace," said Giovanni Bisignani, head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), after airlines carried out test flights.
"We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction at how governments have managed the crisis," he told aviation reporters in Paris.
"It took five days to organise a conference call with the ministers of transport," he said, adding later in an interview with BBC radio: "This is a European embarrassment and it's a European mess."
Bisignani, whose body represents the global airline industry, said it would take between three and six days for services to return to normal once governments lift the flight bans imposed over the past five days.
Companies are losing 200 million euros (270 million dollars) per day, he added. Air France-KLM said that it alone was losing 35 million euros per day, British Airways 17 to 26 million and Scandinavia's SAS five to nine milllion.
The Spanish presidency of the European Union is planning a video conference of member states' transport ministers later on GMT Monday.
Laurent Magnin, chairman and managing director of French firm XL Airways, wrote to passengers to apologise for what he said was avoidable chaos caused by official confusion.
"Orders and counter-orders are falling on us by the shovel load, forcing us to call you to come in and present yourself for departure at airports that are then suddenly shut down," he said, in a message on his airline's website.
"Our staff have been working for several days to try to find answers, but we're forced to admit that the near total blockage of European airspace has left all our efforts at naught."
Over the weekend several European airlines successfully staged test flights through parts of the ash trail blowing from Iceland, leading some to question whether the current flight bans are necessary.
Hundreds of thousands of passengers are stranded in airports around the world and airlines are losing tens of millions of dollars. Bisignani declared: "The scale of this crisis is now greater than September 11."
Attacks on New York and Washington by Al-Qaeda using hijacked planes on September 11, 2001, triggered a crisis of confidence in the airline industry that had longstanding economic consequences.
European air traffic officials have designated much of the continent a virtual no-fly zone for a fifth straight day after ash from a volcano in Iceland drifted south and east.
Authorities fear that the ash and dust could pose a danger to jet engines and airliner airframes, but several companies carried out test flights over the weekend without reporting any damage to their planes.
Some countries have begun lifting restrictions at some airports, or at some altitudes, but the main western European hubs were still blocked and expected to remain so for at least the rest of Monday and into Tuesday morning.
French transport minister Dominique Bussereau said "you can never take too many precautions", insisting authorities were working as quickly as possible but that advice from experts about the risks "was not very pleasant".
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