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Some air travel to resume

Tue., April 20, 2010

But ash heading to Britain may keep its airports closed

LONDON — Europe began allowing limited air traffic to resume, giving hope to millions of travelers stranded around the world when ash from a volcano in Iceland choked the jet age to a halt. Some flights resumed early today from Asia to southern Europe.

But further delays were likely because the eruption from the Icelandic volcano that caused days of aviation chaos was said to be strengthening and sending more ash toward Britain. British air traffic controllers kept London’s main airports closed today.

In Asia, a Japan Airlines flight from Moscow landed this morning at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, the first European flight to arrive since Friday night, airport spokesman Toru Motoyoshi said.

At South Korea’s Incheon International Airport, one flight departed for Istanbul, but all other flights to Europe were canceled today, said airport spokeswoman Kate Kang. She said about 250 passengers were stranded at the airport.

Three KLM passenger planes left Schiphol airport in Amsterdam on Monday evening during daylight under visual flight rules bound for New York, Dubai and Shanghai. European Union transport ministers reached a deal during a crisis video conference to divide northern European skies into three areas: a “no-fly” zone immediately over the ash cloud; a caution zone “with some contamination” where planes can fly subject to engine checks for damage; and an open-skies zone.

Starting this morning, “we should see progressively more planes start to fly,” said EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas.

The German airline Lufthansa said it would bring 50 planeloads of passengers home.

Europe’s aviation industry – facing losses of more than $1 billion – criticized official handling of the disruption that grounded thousands of flights to and from the continent.

The airlines said test flights in recent days by airlines including KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways suggested planes can fly safely despite the ash. None of the flights reported problems or damage.

“The analysis we have done so far, alongside that from other airlines’ trial flights, provides fresh evidence that the current blanket restrictions on airspace are unnecessary,” said BA chief executive Willie Walsh.

Scientists and pilots urged caution.

“Mixing commercial and safety decisions risks lives,” said Philip von Schoppenthau, secretary-general of the European Cockpit Association, a union representing 38,200 pilots from 36 European nations.

“Our members have many firsthand experiences of the extremely abrasive and clogging effects of such clouds,” he said.

Airports in central Europe and Scandinavia have reopened, and most of southern Europe remained clear.

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