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Sat Apr 19 06:23:05 SAST 2014

Europe fumbles on how to respond to ash in the airways

Reuters, Sapa-AP | 24 May, 2011 23:110 Comments
This traffic sign at Zurich Airport applied equally to the skies as a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland grounded flights

The main international airline lobby group has complained to the British government about its handling of the disruption of air traffic by the volcanic-ash cloud from Iceland.

The Geneva-based International Air Transport Association said it found it "astonishing and unacceptable" that British aviation regulators did not have their own light aircraft with which to gather data on the ash plume.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority said it relies on Britain's official weather forecaster, the Met Office, for information on the ash.

The association's CEO Giovanni Bisignani, said he was also concerned about the lack of formal agreements between governments on how to regulate airspace.

New airspace closure rules decided on after last year's Icelandic volcanic eruption have caused divisions in Europe. Nations differ on how close to an ash cloud it is safe to fly.

A bureaucratic turf war has prevented Europe's air traffic regulators from applying the same rules to everyone. Germany insists on closing the skies as a precaution whenever there are signs of significant quantities of ash.

A European crisis group founded after last year's six-day volcanic ash crisis was activated for the first time on Monday and met yesterday to try to hammer out uniform rules.

"Germany has been taking a tougher line than most of the other countries," a source familiar with the discussions said.

So far, weather maps show a paw-shaped "red zone" of Icelandic ash spreading down to Scotland but sparing Germany.

The Grimsvotn volcano erupted on Saturday.

European authorities were criticised last year for imposing sweeping airspace closures wherever computerised ash-dispersion models told them ash ought to be present. The bans grounded more than 10million passengers.

This time, two changes have been made that should reduce disruption.

Forecasters are providing information dividing airspace into three levels of ash concentration, and a new UK-backed system would allow pilots to make most decisions on where to fly, as long as airlines have made a compelling safety case and proved their risk assessment methods.

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Europe fumbles on how to respond to ash in the airways

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