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EU ministers hope to restore flights as travel chaos persists

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-04-19

Officials hope to increase flights in Europe Monday as the EU summoned ministers for talks to find a solution to the air travel crisis that has thrown the continent into chaos for the past five days, with an estimated 63,000 flights cancelled.

Have your travel plans been disrupted by the volcanic ash cloud? Are you stuck at the airport? Tell FRANCE 24 about your ordeal by posting your story below in the comment section.

Officials hope to increase flights at the start of Europe’s new work week Monday as the EU summoned ministers for talks to find a solution to the air-travel crisis that has thrown the continent into chaos for the past five days, with an estimated 63,000 flights cancelled.

The closing of most of Europe’s airspace because of a giant ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano has had an impact across the world, costing the airline industry hundreds of millions of dollars, stranding millions of passengers and affecting international commerce.

The air-travel disruption is the worst since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, when US airspace was closed for three days.

France was to keep airports in Paris and areas north of an axis between Nice on the Mediterranean and Bordeaux near the Atlantic closed until 8 am Tuesday (GMT+2). Britain, meanwhile, said its airspace would remain closed “at least” until early Tuesday morning, while Germany was to extend its flight ban until 8 pm (GMT+2) Monday.

EU ministers seek to stem growing crisis

EU transport ministers have discussed the crisis in a video conference Monday.

Pierre Benazet, RFI correspondent for FRANCE 24 in Brussels, reported that the ministers are eager to improve travel conditions as quickly as possible. “For the European transport ministers, the parameters of the equation are less and less technical and more and more political,” said Benazet.

European governments are facing calls to repatriate citizens stranded abroad as well as lobbying from air carriers concerned about losses estimated at more than $200 million per day, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The EU is prepared to authorise exceptional financial aid to airlines hit by the closure of air space to help compensate companies for losses, the EU Commission said on Monday.

Indeed, airlines are calling for a review of no-fly decrees after weekend test flights encountered no apparent problems from the ash cloud.

Dutch state broadcaster NOS quoted the Netherlands transport minister, Camiel Eurlings, as saying Europe’s response had been too severe, despite aviation-control officials’ insistence that certain published rules for air safety needed to be adhered to.

Volcanic ash is abrasive and can strip off aerodynamic surfaces, paralyse an aircraft engine and damage aircraft electronics and windshields.

Iceland said tremors from the volcano had grown more intense but that the column of ash rising from it had eased back to 4-5 kilometres (2.5-3 miles) from as high as 11 kilometres Wednesday, when it erupted from below the Eyjafjallajokull glacier.

Forecasters at Britain's Met Office said ash from the eruption could hit the eastern coast of Canada Monday before then moving away again back into the Atlantic.

Far-reaching impact

In Britain, companies reported staff have been unable to return from Easter holidays abroad, and hospitals said they were cancelling operations because surgeons were stuck in far-off places.

The British government said it was considering using navy and merchant ships to ferry home an estimated 150,000 citizens stranded abroad, as the response to the crisis threatened to become a campaign issue for Britain’s May 6 election.

In France, Air France had commissioned buses to drive some passengers stranded at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport to Toulouse, where flights could take off.

Many US airline flights to and from Europe were cancelled.

Disruption also spread to Asia, where dozens of Europe-bound flights were cancelled and hotels from Beijing to Singapore strained to accommodate stranded passengers.

For some businesses dependent on fast air freight, the impact has been immediate. Kenya’s flower exporters, who account for roughly a third of flower imports into the EU, said they were losing up to $2 million a day.

The volcano day by day

The crisis is also having an impact on international diplomacy, with several world leaders cancelling plans to attend Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s funeral Sunday. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani become the latest leader to abandon a visit to Europe.

Disgruntled passengers take to the Web

Some passengers stuck in airports   not only in Europe but as far afield as New Zealand and California   picked up their Iphones and Blackberries to voice frustration after a weekend spent scrambling for accommodation and alternative transportation.

Disgruntled, travelling Twitter users could post information, complaints, or tips on twitter#getmehome.

Meanwhile, stranded in New York, holidaymakers Olivier and Cathy told FRANCE 24 in an online comment that Air France had only paid for one night at a hotel and that they were now footing the hotel bills. “Who will reimburse these unforeseen expenses?” they wondered.


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Date created : 2010-04-19


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