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German airlines question extended flight ban

DDP/DPA/The Local · 18 Apr 2010, 11:18

Published: 18 Apr 2010 11:18 GMT+02:00

The Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported that both Lufthansa and Air Berlin, which are haemorrhaging money with all their European planes grounded, have questioned the flight ban, saying their experience shows the ash poses no danger.

“We sent ten Boeing 747 and Airbus 340 jets on transfer flights from Munich to Frankfurt,” Lufthansa spokesman Klaus Walther told the paper. The planes were moved in order to be in the most useful place once the ban is lifted, he explained.

“Our machines flew to a height of 24,000 feet, or around 8,000 metres. In Frankfurt the machines were examined by our technicians. They didn’t find the slightest scratch on the cockpit windscreens, on the outer skin nor in the engines."

“The flight ban, which is completely based on computer calculations, is causing economic damage in the billions. This is why, for the future, we demand that dependable measurements must be available before a flight ban is imposed.”


His frustration was echoed by Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest airline.

“The closure of the airspace has been imposed solely on the basis of data from a computer simulation from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in London,” Joachim Hunold, head of Air Berlin, told the paper.

This data was used by the German weather service to work out which areas are covered by the ash cloud, and this is then used by the German DFS air traffic authority to decide on the a flight ban, the paper said.

“Not even a weather balloon has been sent up in Germany to measure how much volcanic ash is actually in the air,” Hunold said.

On Sunday he criticised the government for not having set up a crisis team. He said he had sent two Airbus planes to the current maximum allowed height of 3,000 metres, and that they had shown absolutely no damage on their return.

“We are amazed that the results from the test flights conducted by Lufthansa and Air Berlin on Saturday have had absolutely no effect on the decisions made by the air safety authorities,” he said.

He offered to conduct further test flights to gather further evidence on whether the fears that the ash particles would damage planes.

The Bild am Sonntag said a plane belonging to the German air and space travel centre, DLR, had not been ready for use as the necessary instruments to measure volcanic ash still had to be installed.

A spokesman for the DLR said on Sunday that a flight would go up to 10,000 metres on Monday taking equipment to measure the density of the ash distribution at that height.

Dutch airline KLM has also reported that it sent a jet to 13,000 metres and found nothing unusual, according to Der Spiegel magazine.

Story continues below…

A spokesman for the company said the flight from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam had been a test flight on request from the European Union. Further test flights have been taking place in France and Belgium, the magazine said.

The flight ban has been extended to 8 pm on Sunday, with no end in sight. The DFS said on Sunday it was unclear how long planes would have to remain grounded.

Meteorologists say they expect the northwest winds which are bringing the cloud of ash from Iceland to mainland Europe to continue during next week.

The German airports association, ADV, has asked for the authorities to relax limits on early and late flying times once the ban is lifted, so that passengers waiting to get to their destinations can be moved as soon as possible.

Ralph Beisel, manager of the association said on Saturday that airports were prepared to bring in additional personnel to deal with the expected flood of traffic.

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DDP/DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

16:44 April 18, 2010 by cobalisk
Nothing wrong with the test flights and I certainly understand the airlines' position. I certainly advocate safety over profit but both test flight results and even a ground-based analysis of the skies indicate that, at least over northern Germany and Denmark there is little impact on air quality.

I expect in Britain the circumstances are a bit different.
18:00 April 18, 2010 by wood artist
As one of the thousands currently sitting on the ground and waiting, I am certainly in favor of choosing safety first. However, it does seem reasonable to have two things.

First, some sort of objective standard to apply when making these sorts of decisions. It's not about the money, although that's certainly an issue in some ways, it's about making arbitrary decisions without knowing how to make the decision.

Second, it's clear from the few "test flights" that maybe what's up there isn't exactly what people think is up there. Without testing the atmosphere, how would anyone know?

To me, the solution is clear. Fly the test planes, first at lower altitudes and around the fringes, and then through the middle of what is supposed to be the worst. Find out what's really up there and where it actually is! Then examine the planes and determine if it really does cause problems or dangerous situations.

What little we know from past history sounds terrible, but it's hard to place that in proper perspective. A plane flew through a cloud so dense the pilots couldn't see out the windows, and then their engines flamed out. Okay, sounds bad. But, from what I've read and seen about this, that isn't the situation over Europe now.

The final answer should err on the side of safety, but at least make the decisions based upon knowledge and facts.

18:17 April 18, 2010 by goody
I guess its kinda ironic lufthansa piolits had no problem grounding the planes for 3 days when they were thinking of going on strike Talk about carma.I do feel so bad for the people stranded.Im flying out May 3 I hope this will be over by then if not sooner.
20:52 April 18, 2010 by pantherman
The best thing the airlines can do is to go ut at least 4 days on no flights and give the people stranded time to RELAX (if they can and afford it) spend money and enjoy their home away from home without having to be by a computer or phone looking for a flight or update. Now for the not so relaxed as in for bus., emerg.,etc.. they should be the ones that have to be first inline for passes. If u having travel insurance use it and ENJOY and relax
23:58 April 18, 2010 by wmm208
Enjoy and Relax. Sure, when a business is trying to ship commerce that cant get through...Enjoy & Relax...When you have business travel and you cant get home...Enjoy & Relax....When the majority of travellers dont have travellers insurance...Enjoy & Relax...When 160 million is lost each day...Enjoy & Relax...When the economic recover in the EU has reversed....Enjoy & Relax....

Kein stress haben...
00:22 April 19, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Do you own stock in Lufthansa, peschvogel? How many lives would YOU put at risk under these circumstances? Exactly how are YOU affected by this unfortunate interruption?
00:35 April 19, 2010 by lenny van
As a retired flight captain, who qualifies for welfare benefits because one of these airlines stole my pension, I still have to defend the airlines. The BA 747 that lost four engines in the Far East some years ago flew very close to the volcano and got all of its engines started as it descended. The particles over Europe are much more diffused. The airlines are justified, not just for wanting to save hundred of millions of dollars, but also for trying to rescue stranded passengers and normalise transportation in Europe, before governments have to subsidise the industry to keep it in business. I'm certain that this is not about choosing the bottom line over flight safety.
10:36 April 19, 2010 by moistvelvet
Of course these airlines are thinking about their profits before safety. So an Air Berlin test flight takes off and finds nothing upto 3000m, but how does this help since Air Berlin scheduled flights fly much higher than that and for an airline that cuts corners to increase turn around time would they really stay at a ceiling of 3000m.

Lufthansa say that they didn't find a single scratch, oh really, not a single one?

All because these test flights have not suffered any problems surely the ban is in place because there is a strong possiblity that there could be, and a course of action to safeguard the lives of their passengers is the better one to take. But having said that if the ban is in place on grounds of safety then why are these airlines even allowed to make test flights? What about the risk of the lives of the crew onboard being instructed to go up, what about the lives of the people on the ground if a test flight comes down?

This ban on flying might be an overreaction, but the motive of the government in safeguarding lives is much better than the motive of these airlines to save money, perhaps the industry should get some financial help to survive, but the affects are so widespread with catering suppliers, airport shops, taxi and transport, where would you draw the line in who would get help and who wouldn't.
10:41 April 19, 2010 by Essertpitay
Can we just sink the bloody island, so we can get on with it...
12:00 April 19, 2010 by Superhero2
Help each other as long as the filght ban remains! There is a Carpool website during the flight restrictions, where you can find free cars. Registration is not needed.

14:04 April 20, 2010 by LancashireLad
The test flights done by the airlines, if accurately reported, only proved one thing. There was no apparent danger on those routes at those times. I'm sorry but weather and wind have no understanding of political boundaries. The air control authorities must also take air movement into account. Maybe it is an overreaction by the authorities but at least they are playing safe.

I was attacked for my comment yesterday and asked if I really believe that Lufthansa would allow a plane to fly knowing that there was a risk it would crash. I'm sorry but after the last 10 or so years of world events and the various theories being read between the lines, my faith in human nature is at an all time low. Lufthansa will do the maths and if the chance of a crash is low enough (not necessarily zero) I think they would fly. Some people (shareholders) really do value money above lives. I'm sorry if I appear defeatist or pessimistic about that. If a plane goes down now after the ban, there will be lots of sorrow shown and probably a lot of finger pointing - but human nature being what it is I can't see an airline going bust for that - the financial effects of the ban, however *could* do it and that is what is worrying the airlines most. If they deem the risk to be low enough, they will want to fly.

I can already hear keyboards being postioned to write things like "if an airline flew again after pushing to have the ban revoked and subsequently crashed, I wouldn't fly with them again" Maybe so, but you are not everyone. Most poeple even in those circumstances will do what is most convenient for them.

I also made the comment that Lufthansa is not insured for this - at least that is what I have heard. Taking it further, I wonder how many other airlines are insured against this sort of thing? Can they even get insurance for this?
08:47 April 21, 2010 by SilberFuchs
Obviously the Eyjafjallajokull eruption is payback for England's claim that Iceland pay off the IceSave bank failure. So how havoc and how many billions did it cost?

Hey, maybe this is a good time to consider cutting back on the ever expanding use of aircraft transport for trivial uses. Aircraft are the grossest polluters, right behind ocean freighters.

Well, maybe not.
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