* EU transport chief says steps in place by 0600 GMT
* IATA had called for opening; losses worse than 9/11
* Volcano spewing less ash, more lava
(Adds Dutch flights, German comment, background, detail)
By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS, April 19 The European Union reached a
deal on Monday to gradually lift flight restrictions imposed
because of an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano, under
pressure from frustrated airlines losing $250 million a day.
It will go into force from 0600 GMT on Tuesday and countries
were quick to declare their airports open to try to stem losses
described as worse than those suffered when the United States
closed its airspace after 9/11.
"From tomorrow morning we should see more planes flying," EU
Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas told reporters after EU
transport ministers held a video conference.
German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer said: "On a
national and European level, we have decided to move step by
step toward a normalisation, within the framework of strict
In the Netherlands, where KLM (AIRF.PA) had run test flights
at normal cruising altitude since Saturday, passenger flights
were taking off from Amsterdam's Schipol Airport on Monday
Airlines had declared numerous test flights problem-free,
but experts have disagreed over how to measure the ash and who
should decide it is safe to fly. A British Airways jet lost
power in all four engines after flying through an ash cloud
above the Indian Ocean in 1982.
For factbox on airspace closures, click on [nLDE63F11N]
For map of ash cloud movement and airline routes, click:
For more stories on volcano's impact, click on [nLDE63F189]
Under the agreement, the area immediately around the volcano
-- hurling more steam and less ash into the sky on Monday --
will remain closed.
But flights may be permitted in a wider zone with a lower
concentration of ash, subject to local safety assessments and
scientific advice, the European aviation control agency
Eurocontrol said in a statement.
"In time, it should be possible to move towards an approach
in which full discretion is given to aircraft operators," it
France said it was reopening some airports to create air
corridors to Paris. Romania also opened its airspace.
Eurocontrol said it expected only 8,000 to 9,000 flights to
operate in Europe on Monday, just 30 percent of normal volume,
stranding hundreds of thousands of passengers and delaying cargo
The European Commission said it might approve compensation
and ease stringent state aid rules to cushion airline losses
from the shutdown, which has sent shares in the sector tumbling.
EU ministers are also due to discuss the economic impact.
"The scale of the economic impact (on aviation) is now
greater than 9/11, when U.S. airspace was closed for three
days," International Air Transport Association (IATA) head
Giovanni Bisignani said. He said airlines were losing $250
million a day in revenue.
"We must move away from this blanket closure and find ways
to flexibly open air space, step by step," he said. [nLDE63I0GA]
British Airways BAY.L, which says it has lost 15-20
million pounds ($22-30 million) a day in revenue, said it had
asked the EU and national governments for compensation.
Millions of people had travel disrupted or been stranded and
forced to make long, expensive attempts to reach home by road,
rail and sea, as well as missing days at work.
Canadian oil worker Mark Bokenfohr told the BBC of a
five-day quest to travel the 1,700 km (1,000 miles) home to
Bergen, Norway from Italy, where he had been on a business trip.
He queued four hours for a train ticket, changed train five
times to get to a port in Denmark, then caught a ferry to
Stavanger in Norway. From there he clubbed together with four
others to hire a car to Bergen.
"My faith in human kindness is renewed," he said. "I met
many, many displaced air passengers along the way. We were
packed into train carriages like sardines, and not everybody
made it onto the trains."
Communications provider Cisco Systems (CSCO.O) said
companies were turning to videoconferencing to connect
executives stranded by the flight ban.
"You will not get a demo room in any of the Cisco
facilities," said Fredrik Halvorsen, head of Cisco's
TelePresence Technology Group. "We have seen a huge spike in
In sport, soccer's European Cup holders Barcelona set off on
a two-day road trip of nearly 1,000 km on Sunday to play Inter
Milan in a Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.
"Lucky for me, I have my laptop and I could still do some
work," David Hampson, a humanitarian worker from Manchester,
England, told reporters while waiting for a KLM flight at
Manila's international airport. About 25,000 travellers to
Europe are stranded in the Philippines.
Britain is deploying three navy ships including an aircraft
carrier to bring its citizens home from continental Europe. The
British travel agents' association ABTA estimated 150,000
Britons were stranded abroad. Washington said it was trying to
help 40,000 Americans stuck in Britain.
Businesses dependent on fast air freight are feeling the
strain of five days of restrictions.
Kenya's flower exporters said they were already losing up to
$2 million a day. Kenya accounts for about a third of flower
imports into the European Union.
"Everything (is being) pushed back down the pipeline," said
Greg Knowler, editor of Cargonews Asia in Hong Kong. "The freight
forwarders are actually sending stuff back to the factories ...
One German forwarder that's based here reckons they have 4,000
tonnes of backlog in Hong Kong."
While the immediate impact on Europe seemed to be abating,
Porter Airlines Inc, a small regional Canadian airline,
cancelled its first flight out of Newfoundland, as a precaution
due to forecasts that ash could spread to Canada's east coast.
Britain's Met Office, the national weather service, said the
ash cloud had reached the Canadian seaboard on Monday, but that
the prevailing wind was set to shift, preventing the cloud from
extending over more of Canada and the United States.
(Reporting by London, Geneva, Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam,
Brussels, Reykjavik, Washington, Frankfurt and Berlin newsrooms;
Writing by Dominic Evans and Alison Williams; Editing by Kevin