Monday, April 19, 2010

Word From France: Flights Resume, No Fallen Ashes

All domestic and most international flights out of Europe are expected to resume Tuesday, some on a limited basis as the worst cinder clouds from the Iceland volcano eruption seem to be scattering.

Lee Remmers, my brother who has lived in France for 30 years, said in an email: "There is a beginning of what the French call "polemic", ie., the airlines and others accusing the transport authorities of being overly cautious."

Brother, does he have that right. The New York Times filed a scathing report on the mixed bag of regional airline controllers closing air space when airlines complain the skies are safe to fly and the grounding has cost them millions of dollars in lost revenue daily since the volcanic activity began last Friday.

Unlike the clunky Amtrack in America, the Euros have an excellent rail system which has helped travel within the continent to a limited extent. As an example, British troops coming home from duty in Afghanistan were hauled by rail to Spain where Brit warships were scheduled to embark and finally return them home.

My brother noted that the Poles were extremely upset as air travel prevented world leaders such as Obama, Merkel and Sarkozy from attending their president's funeral Saturday. After as many as five days stranded in airports, millions of airline passengers were, as Queen Victoria would say, not amused.

He said no volcanic ash had fallen in Thomery, where he lives about a 40-minute drive from Paris, nor any other parts of the continent as of Monday night. David Remmers, my nephew and Lee's son, is a frequent flier in his wine distribution company, but as luck would have it, had no scheduled flights the past week.

Lee is a professor emeritus at an international economics university in Fountainbleau and said he suspects many of his cohorts will be inconvenienced until the chaos unravels, hopefully by week's end. His Portuguese housekeeper had family from Portugal delayed until Friday before they could fly to Paris.

My brother is stoic and possesses a dry wit. He said most passengers probably understand and would rather be safe than sorry. He signed off the email saying he and my sister-in-law were leaving tomorrow to visit friends -- on the EuroStar high-speed train.

Airline industry people are pointing fingers at the fragmented Euro leadership, claiming the flight risks are being over dramatized by the air controllers and a breathless end-of-the-world-is-coming media. The New York Times:

“We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction on how governments have managed it, with no risk assessment, no consultation and no leadership,” said Giovanni Bisignani, the director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association. “This crisis is costing airlines at least $200 million a day in lost revenues and the European economy has already suffered billions of dollars in lost business".


“The Ash Attack has already affected the travel plans of eight million passengers in Europe and around the world,” the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation, a consultancy based in Sydney, Australia, said Monday on its Web site. “The total cost for the aviation industry (airlines, airports, suppliers, freight operators, handlers, etc.) could be well over $2 billion.” 

 Under the new fly rules, planes will fly at lower altitudes from 15,000 to 23,000 feet and avoid particular routes where specs of volcanic ash remain that could clog airline jet engines.

Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based agency that coordinates air-traffic management across Europe, said about 9,000 of the continent's 28,000 scheduled flights resumed Monday.

Bisignani of the International Air Transport Association told reporters in Paris that he hoped the chaos would lead to a new momentum on discussions about a unified air traffic control system in Europe, known as the Single European Sky, which have been going on for 20 years. 

“This is really a failure of Europe,” he said. While Europe has been able to remove borders on the ground, he added, “we haven’t been able to take away the borders in the sky.”

Readers comments are welcome as long as they remain civil. We reserve the right to delete any comments that are vulgar, libelous and totally irrelevant to this posting. -- Jer

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