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Airline group blasts European handling of volcanic ash

European aviation authorities urgently need to revise their airspace rules to minimise disruption from ash emitted by an Icelandic volcano, the airline industry body IATA said on Tuesday.  The International Air Transport Association said the current system was leading to the unnecessary closure of airspace, with a further 1,000 flights cancelled on Monday, May 17.

“This problem is not going away any time soon. The current European-wide system to decide on airspace closures is not working,” said IATA Director-General Giovanni Bisignani. Safety is always our number one priority. But we must make decisions based on facts, not on uncorroborated theoretical models,” he said in a statement.

Bisignani welcomed France’s success in keeping airspace open safely by using aviation expertise to interpret data on the movement of the ash cloud, and Britain’s decision to set tolerance levels more precisely.  IATA, whose 230 airline members include Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific, called for more robust data collection, improved decision-making and urgency to tackle the problem.  More than 200,000 flights had operated in European airspace identified as having the potential presence of ash but not one had reported the significant presence of ash, as verified by engine inspections after the flight, it said.

The volcano, under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, has been erupting for weeks and shows no signs of stopping. IATA, which has reported a strong rebound in airline traffic in the first quarter of this year as the global economy recovers, said on Monday that international traffic would decline by four per cent in April because of the disruption.

It has estimated that a six-day shut down of European airspace in April cost carriers 1.7 billion dollars in lost revenues. Before the eruption, IATA had forecast that airlines would lose 2.8 billion dollars this year after losing 9.4 billion dollars in 2009


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