Government defends lengthy flight ban

Government leaders in Germany scrambled on Thursday to defend the decisions taken over the past week to clear the skies because of the threat of volcanic ash, as airlines continued to resume their normal flight schedules.

Government defends lengthy flight ban
Photo: DPA

As the political fallout from the flight ban settled, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the closure of air space had been justified. Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle, meanwhile, said the week-long interruptions to flights around Europe would not substantially damage Germany’s economic recovery.

“I don’t believe that it will have a significant impact on the macro-economic growth rate for the year,” Brüderle told broadcaster ZDF on Thursday morning.

Industries hit by lost production because of the cancellation of more than 100,000 civilian flights would enjoy a catch-up effect, Brüderle said. The fact that Lufthansa boss Wolfgang Mayrhuber had made no request for state help for Germany’s biggest airline was “a signal” of this, he added.

Brüderle acknowledged, however, that a final assessment of the impact of the ash cloud was not yet possible, given “no one even knows how quickly everything will get going again.”

He said he would be having talks in the coming weeks with the sectors hit by the transport chaos.

Merkel, meanwhile, said it was the first job of the government and responsible agencies to ensure the safety of its people.

“Of course it’s a heavy blow for the airlines. But the state has the job of evaluation the risks responsibly and protecting people,” Merkel told the WAZ newspaper group.

“After all, when something happens to the first flight, the authorities who approved the opening of the air space despite the ash cloud will be held accountable – and quite rightly.”

The airlines, which have lost as much as $1.7 billion in sales according to their peak body the International Air Transport Association (IATA), have been sharply critical of Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer, claiming decisions to close air space were based on insufficient data.

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