Airlines challenge restrictions as ash snags 6.8 million passengers

LONDON, April 18, 2010 (AFP) – Airlines urged a re-think of flight restrictions as a volcanic ash cloud made Europe a virtual no-fly zone for a fourth straight day Sunday with nearly seven million passengers affected. However, the European Union presidency offered a glimmer of hope for stranded passengers, saying half of the flights scheduled for Monday in Europe could likely go ahead.

Several European carriers launched test flights to challenge warnings that the volcanic ash cloud spreading across Europe from Iceland’s Eyjafjoell volcano since Wednesday would destroy jet engines. Air France and KLM reported no problems.

A grouping of the continent’s 36 major carriers called on governments for an “immediate reassessment” of the restrictions, saying they were having a “devastating impact” on the industry, and questioning whether they were proportionate.

“Airlines must be able to fly where it is safe to fly and make decisions accordingly. It is what our passengers demand of us,” the Association of European Airlines said.

Meanwhile, KLM declared European airspace “safe” after a series of test flights, as the Dutch traffic authority allowed KLM to fly two cargo flights to Asia and the Middle East.