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European flights resume; normality remains weeks away
LONDON, Apr 21 (Agencies)
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Published on 21 Apr. 2010 11:44 PM IST
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Flights resumed across Europe Wednesday as most airspace reopened following a reappraisal of the risks from the volcanic ash cloud that had severely interrupted flights over the past six days, but airlines said it would take weeks for all of the stranded passengers to get home and for operations to return to normal.
An airplane took off at the Duesseldorf airport, western Germany, on Wednesday. As the first estimates of the economic impact of the disruption emerged—the U.S. Travel Association said it had cost the U.S. economy $650 million and affected some 6,000 jobs in the country—airlines were rushing to resume halted operations that have cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and costs for supporting stranded passengers.
However, with many aircraft and staff out of place, and millions of stranded passengers awaiting flights, airlines face a big task.
About 21,000 flights are expected to take place in European airspace Wednesday, out of 28,000 that would scheduled normally, said Eurocontrol, which coordinates flights across 38 European countries. That means over 100,000 flights will have been cancelled since last Thursday.
Moving later than some of its continental counterparts, the British government late Tuesday reopened U.K. airports including London’s Heathrow, the world’s busiest international hub. British Airways PLC, one of the airlines worst hit by the disruption, said it hoped to operate all long-haul flights from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports Wednesday, although there still would be short-haul cancellations.
Echoing comments from other aviation leaders, British Airways Chief Executive Willie Walsh said it would take weeks to get back to normal operations, describing efforts to get stranded passengers back home as an “unprecedented” airlift. “We still have a large number of pilots, aircraft and cabin crew out of position,” a BA spokeswoman said.
Low-cost airline easyJet PLC said it planned to resume some services Wednesday, but it would take “several days” to resume normal operations.
Airspace across northern and central Europe had been closed since last Thursday as a volcanic ash cloud from an eruption in Iceland was blown south across the continent. Ash remains in the atmosphere above Europe and the Atlantic, but authorities have reappraised the risks of the cloud after tests by airlines, aircraft manufacturers and engine makers.
A spokesman for Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said the U.K. had delayed opening its airports because of guidelines from regulators and manufacturers that gave engines no tolerance for volcanic dust.
After consultations within the industry, the zero-tolerance bar was relaxed, provided conditions, such as frequent engine inspections, were met. Engines will be examined with borescopes for signs of damage before and after every flight.
Pressure to restart flights had been intense. More than eight million passengers have been affected and up to 313 airports closed, according to the Airports Council International Europe, a trade group in Brussels.
Airline analysts estimate that European airlines’ profits—already expected to be negative this year—are being reduced by more than $100 million each day. European airports have collectively lost roughly €200 million, the Airports Council said.
Airlines around the world had lost more than $1.7 billion in revenue through Tuesday, said the International Air Transport Association, which represents some 230 airlines world-wide comprising 93% of scheduled international air traffic.
“For an industry that lost $9.4 billion last year and was forecast to lose a further $2.8 billion in 2010, this crisis is devastating,” said IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani.
Wolfgang Mayrhuber said European airlines will discuss together whether and how to pursue government aid to offset the cost of service interruptions. But he added that the airline industry wouldn’t need a “bailout,” and that there are multiple strategies for obtaining relief.

 
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