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Airlines dissent over volcano risk

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Airlines dissent over volcano risk


Germany says it will not allow planes to fly through certain ash concentrations except in specific conditions.

The eruption of Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano is said to be stronger than last year’s volcanic outpouring. But Europe is divided over new airspace closure rules. So far weather maps show a “red” zone spreading down to Scotland.

Our aviation correspondent Giovanni Magi explained the differences: “Although this eruption is much more ‘powerful’ than the one of April 2010, the ash is much heavier, and therefore it has a tendency to fall vertically and not drift away and spread with the wind.”

The airline industry has welcomed many countries’ extra flexibility in deciding whether to fly or not to fly. But one company said this adds to a heavy risk responsibility. A European crisis cell founded after last year’s ash blanket was activated for the first time on Monday and has been meeting to try to hammer out a harmonised set of rules.

Magi said: “Since then the procedures have changed. The airlines have more ‘voice’ in the argument. Now it is the companies who will take the decision whether to fly or not. This will be based on an engineering study which must receive the approval of the national aviation safety authority.”

Precautionary flying bans last year turned Europe’s air traffic controllers into air border guards. More than 10 million passengers were stuck waiting for the air to clear.

Ireland’s Ryanair says its own plane checking today’s reported danger zone over Scotland found no visible ash and dismissed the red zone as a “myth”.

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