Air France, Lufthansa Test Fly Aircraft; Some Flights May Resume Tomorrow

Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa AG were among carriers saying they managed to fly aircraft without suffering damage as governments across Europe extended a flight ban after Iceland’s volcanic eruption last week caused the grounding of 63,000 flights.

Air France’s KLM Dutch unit operated nine test flights after a technical inspection following one late yesterday in Dutch airspace revealed that the quality of the atmosphere is “in order.” Air France said its engineers found no visual impact on a test flight from Paris to Toulouse. Lufthansa sent 10 aircraft from Munich to Frankfurt to reposition its fleet yesterday. All arrived safely.

“We asked the Frankfurt crew to check any damage with the aircraft and the windows,” Wolfgang Weber, a spokesman at Lufthansa, Europe’s second-largest carrier, said in a telephone interview. “There wasn’t even the smallest scratch.”

About 17 percent of 24,000 flights that usually cross Europe’s airspace on a Sunday will fly today as airports from Dublin to Moscow are closed, according to Eurocontrol. While the Brussels-based group forecasts as much as half of Europe’s airspace may be “risk free” tomorrow, U.K. Transport Minister Andrew Adonis said in televised comments that flights across northern Europe won’t be safe in the next 24 hours, citing advice given by the country’s Met Office.

Air Berlin, BA

Volcanic ash can cause jet engines to fail by melting and then congealing in the turbines. Test flights so far have shown no dangerous particles in European airspace following the eruption, according to airline executives.

Flights were grounded after April 14 when an eruption at the 1,666-meter (5,466-foot) Eyjafjallajökull volcano spewed dust across Europe’s airspace. The disruptions are costing carriers $200 million a day, the International Air Transport Association said.

Air Berlin Plc ran two test flights yesterday from Munich to Dusseldorf and from Nuremberg to Hamburg without problems, flying at the permitted 3,000 meters, the carrier said in a statement.

“We’re puzzled why the results of the Lufthansa and Air Berlin test flights had no influence on safety authorities’ decision criteria,” Air Berlin CEO Joachim Hunold said.

British Airways Plc, Europe’s third-largest carrier, said it operating a test flight today from Heathrow Airport to assess the quality of U.K. airspace. The carrier has canceled all flights to and from London through tomorrow.

Assess the Impact

The European Commission said it will set up a group to assess the impact of the ash cloud on the travel industry and the economy. Spain called a video conference for European Union transport ministers tomorrow to discuss emergency plans.

U.K. airspace will remain restricted until at least 7 p.m. local time tomorrow, the country’s flight-control authority, National Air Traffic Services, said.

“Conditions around the movement of the layers of the volcanic ash cloud over the U.K remain dynamic,” NATS said in a statement. “NATS is maintaining close dialogue with the Met Office and with the U.K.’s safety regulator, the CAA, in respect of the international civil aviation policy we follow in applying restrictions to use of airspace.”

In Norway, the airspace north of Bergen airport until Berlevag was re-opened, air controller Avinor said on its Web site. The airspace over southern Norway may be cleared in the next six to 12 hours, Avinor said.

Sweden opened the air space north of Soderhamn, including Kiruna airport, according to the LFV flight controller. The rest of the air space remains shut, it said.

Italy Reopens Tomorrow

Italy will reopen all its airspace at 7 a.m. tomorrow after conditions in the north of the country improved, ENAC, the nation’s civil aviation authority, said.

Germany’s DFS flight safety authority eased a ban at some airports today. Still, all the country’s airports will shut again by 8 p.m., with Berlin-Tegel and Berlin-Schoenefeld closing at 10 p.m., a spokeswoman at the agency said. The closings will remain until at least 2 p.m. tomorrow.

France’s civil aviation authority banned flying in the previously unaffected south of the country today. French airspace and all airports in the country will remain closed until at least 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Spain, Greece, Turkey

Airspace in northern Spain was also shut. Rome, Madrid, Athens and Istanbul were the only major European airports still in operation.

The Netherlands extended the closure of its airspace until 8 p.m. local time, and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is closed until at least that time.

“We hope to receive permission as soon as possible after that to start up our operation and to transport our passengers to their destinations,” KLM Chief Executive Officer Peter Hartman said in a statement.

Airlines in the Asia-Pacific region canceled most Europe- bound flights, with Qantas Airways Ltd. saying it won’t fly to European destinations before April 20 and can’t confirm when service on those routes will resume.

Carriers including Air China Ltd., Japan Airlines Corp., Thai Airways International Pcl, Korean Air Lines Co. and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. shut down service to Europe, while Singapore’s Changi Airport reported cancellation of 34 arrivals and departures, including Singapore Airlines Ltd. flights to nine European destinations.

Haraldur Eiriksson, a meteorologist at the Icelandic meteorological office, predicted little changes in the ash pattern in Europe until at least through April 23.

‘Ongoing Impact’

“This could have an ongoing impact on European air travel,” he said. “The forecast hasn’t changed, although the height the volcano is spewing the ash into has decreased from 5 to 6 kilometers to less than 3 kilometers, and now it can’t be seen on our radars. Due to cloudy weather conditions at the site of the volcano, we can’t say what the exact height of the ash is.”

Volcanic eruptions may continue for months and curtail European air traffic, said Sigrun Hreinsdottir, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. “It could erupt, pause for a few weeks, and then possibly erupt again.”

The last eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in December 1821 continued until January 1823. The current blast has sent ash to as high as 7 kilometers (4.5 miles), according to Gudrun Larsen, a vulcanologist at the University of Iceland. The magma had to pierce 200 meters of ice before reaching the air, she said.

“We really don’t know if this eruption is going to last as long as the previous one, but we can’t say it’s not a possibility,” Larsen said by telephone.

Funeral Plans Canceled

The volcanic ash cloud also led world leaders, including Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to cancel plans to attend the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who died with 95 others in an April 10 plane crash.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in a government jet which had clearance to fly at low altitudes.

Airline stocks, including British Airways, Lufthansa, and Ryanair Holdings Plc, fell April 16 as fleets were grounded. El Al Israel Airlines, which has canceled all European flights except to Madrid, Rome and Athens, fell the most in 17 months on the Tel Aviv exchange today.

Exports of Italian products such as mozzarella cheese, flowers, fruit and vegetables worth 10 million euros ($13.5 million) are blocked, the country’s Coldiretti agricultural group said in a statement.

Diverted Air Freight

Deutsche Post AG’s DHL unit has diverted air freight to southern European airports including Bergamo in Italy to maintain services. DHL has closed its Leipzig-Halle freight hub where at least 50 aircraft land each week, carrying up to 200,000 deliveries, spokesman Stefan Hess said. DHL switched to rail and road for deliveries in northern Europe April 16.

Because of the wind direction, Iceland’s Keflavik airport is open, and North American flights are running on schedule.

OAO Aeroflot, Russia’s largest air carrier, is flying to North America via the North Pole to avoid volcano ash over Europe, Transportation Minister Igor Levitin told Prime Minister Putin at a meeting today, Interfax said.

The U.S. Air Transport Association said yesterday that 282 of 337, or 84 percent, of the day’s non-stop flights between the U.S. and Europe were canceled.

Delta Air Lines Inc., the world’s largest carrier, scrapped 97 flights today to and from Europe, spokesman Anthony Black said. Another 49 flights have been grounded for tomorrow. AMR Corp.’s American Airlines has canceled 30 flights to Europe so far today, according to spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. American is able to operate flights to and from Spain and Italy, she said.

Chicago Cancellations

Chicago’s Department of Aviation, which operates O’Hare International Airport, Midway International Airport and Gary- Chicago International Airport, said 14 flights bound for Chicago from northern Europe were canceled today.

The eruption began on March 20 with a lava flow on the eastern flank of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, according to the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland. After a lull, it resumed early on April 14, directly under the icecap that covers most of the mountain.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.net; Omar R. Valdimarsson in Reykjavik valdimarsson@bloomberg.net

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