Airline group slams European handling of ash threat

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 17 May.

"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, which has 230 airline members, 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 shutdown of European airspace in April cost carriers $1.7 billion in lost revenues.

Restrictions on UK airspace have now been eased, allowing aircraft to fly through 'medium density' ash, following the Civil Aviation Authority's introduction of a new zone that defines the concentration of the ash cloud.

Richard Deakin, chief executive of air traffic control organisation NATS, commented: "NATS has been at the heart of this ground-breaking proposal and our people have worked very closely with the Irish Aviation Authority, CAA and the rest of the industry to make it happen.

"Every leading player in aviation has been helping to build vast amounts of data about the effects of volcanic ash over the last month. There is mounting evidence that aircraft can fly safely through areas of medium density, provided some additional precautions are taken. This is now what has been agreed."

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