Stranded passengers get hope

April 20, 2010 12:00 am

, LONDON, Apr 20 – European governments opened the continent\’s airspace to new flights from Tuesday giving hope to passengers around the world trapped by the cloud of volcano ash that has grounded airlines there.

But British air traffic chiefs said late on Monday that the Icelandic volcano at the source of the chaos had spewed a fresh cloud of ash, warning it was headed for Britain.

On Monday, the dust that has blanketed much of Europe\’s skies forced the cancellation of another 20,000 flights, as Britain sent navy ships and other governments took their own measures to rescue stranded passengers.

But under relentless pressure from airlines who have lost more than a billion dollars from the crisis so far, EU transport ministers agreed to ease restrictions from Tuesday.

"From tomorrow morning on, we should progressively see more planes start to fly," EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said.

Europe\’s air traffic control group Eurocontrol subsequently predicted that flights over the continent could be running normally again by Thursday.

France said it was progressively reopening airports from Monday, with restricted flights from Paris to start from early Tuesday.

And although flights over Germany remained banned until 1200 GMT Tuesday, some operated with special permission. German flag carrier Lufthansa announced the immediate resumption of all its long-haul flights Monday.

Three KLM flights carrying passengers left Amsterdam-Schiphol airport on Monday for Shanghai, Dubai and New York, the Dutch transport minister announced.

But hopes that the ash cloud nightmare were tempered by the latest bulletin from British aviation chiefs late on Monday.

"The volcano eruption in Iceland has strengthened and a new ash cloud is spreading south and east towards the UK," said the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which manages British airspace.

It now looked less likely London airports would be reopened Tuesday, as had been hoped, although plans to open airspace in Scotland should still go ahead, said the air authority.

In Europe marooned passengers juggled rail, boat and road links, zig-zagging across borders in desperate attempts to make it home – whether to the other end of Europe or to the United States.

Britain ordered its flagship aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and HMS Ocean and HMS Albion to pick up thousands of Britons from France – where they have come from all over Europe – and Spain.

The problem meanwhile had spread west across the Atlantic on Monday, as Canada\’s Saint John\’s, Newfoundland announced it had cancelled a batch of domestic flights because of fears the ash would reach their airspace.

Authorities in Sweden, Croatia, Hungary and the Czech Republic announced the resumption of flights. Romania and Bulgaria announced their airspace had been reopened, while Switzerland said its airspace would reopen early on Tuesday.

But as airlines argued their case, a senior US military official said the ash had affected one of NATO\’s F-16 fighter planes, which detected a glass build-up inside its engine.

Ash from volcanoes can be turned into a glass form at high temperatures when it passes through a jet engine.
Companies are losing $270 million per day according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Winds have carried most of the ash spewing from Eyjafjoell across a wide swathe of Europe since last Wednesday.


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