Earlier versions of this story, including Monday's print edition, gave the wrong name for Blue Skies, a British company that cuts and packs fresh fruit in Brazil, Ghana, Egypt and South Africa and has been impacted by the shutdown of air space.
|Page 2 of 2 <|
Airlines, European officials urge end to flight restrictions
A handful of carriers have run test flights to determine whether ash particles were dense enough over Europe to cause engines to fail.
The Dutch carrier KLM said it flew a Boeing 737-800 to its maximum altitude of eight miles on Saturday. Peter Hartman, KLM's chief executive, was aboard the flight and said the crew had detected "nothing unusual." Lufthansa, Air Berlin and Air France officials said that they also ran successful test flights at various altitudes and that the results were submitted to authorities.
Europe's two main airline associations issued a statement saying that the situation did "not appear to require the kind of restrictions that are presently being imposed."
Still, KLM acknowledged that it conducted its test flight when there was a gap in the clouds containing the heavier concentrations of ash. The other airlines conducted their tests at lower altitudes.
Aviation authorities in Britain and Europe were reviewing the test flight data and remained in intense talks with airlines. Restrictions were eased in some nations, including Germany, but largely remained in place in 24 nations from Ireland to Italy.
Civil aviation experts cite two famous examples of volcanic ash disrupting flights, in 1982 and in 1989. In both cases, fatalities were narrowly averted.
In Europe, the economic toll is being felt most in specific industries, including aviation, air shipment and agricultural businesses dealing in perishable goods.
Blue Skies, a British company that cuts and packs fresh fruit in Brazil, Ghana, Egypt and South Africa, said it had lost more than $1.2 million since the ban began on Thursday. Anthony Pile, the company's chairman, said the delays were costing thousands of farmers in Africa who sell to fruit to the company. "The impact is everywhere," Pile said.
Economists said it would take weeks of flight bans to significantly damage the European economy. In Britain, for instance, air transport accounts for less than 1 percent of international trade.
If the region remains cut off by air for a prolonged period, pharmaceutical, biotech and even auto manufacturers that depend on air transport for time-sensitive deliveries could face production delays. The additional sting would come at a time when the region is already lagging the United States in bouncing back from the financial crisis.
"What is now a manageable, short-term disruption could become a major weight on an economy that is still very fragile," said Henk Potts, vice president of Barclay's Wealth in London.
Correspondents Emily Wax in New Delhi and Sudarsan Raghavan in Nairobi and staff writer Howard Schneider in Washington contributed to this report.