* EU requests test flights as air travel chaos worsens
* KLM says test successfully done at all altitude levels
* Lufthansa flew 10 planes to Frankfurt from Munich
(Adds KLM, Lufthansa comments)
By Gilbert Kreijger and Aaron Gray-Block
AMSTERDAM, April 17 Dutch and German airlines
carried out test flights over Europe on Saturday and said their
planes appeared undamaged by a volcanic ash cloud that has
forced airports to close across the continent.
Dutch airline KLM said if further examinations showed its
test flight to have been successful, it hoped to fly seven
planes back from Germany to Amsterdam on Sunday and get
permission to restart partially its operations.
Germany's Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) said it flew 10 planes to
Frankfurt from Munich, mostly flying at a 'visual level' of
3,000 metres while also testing conditions through to a height
of 8,000 metres, company spokesman Aage Duenhaupt said.
"All airplanes have been inspected on arrival in Frankfurt
but there was no damage to the cockpit windows or fuselage and
no impact on the engines," Duenhaupt added.
Volcanic ash spreading from Iceland has led to massive air
travel disruptions across Europe in recent days and problems
worsened on Saturday as the cloud of ash spread southeast across
Volcanic ash has an abrasive effect and can strip off vital
aerodynamic surfaces and paralyse an aircraft engine, while
aircraft avionics and electronics can also be damaged.
KLM, part of Franco-Dutch Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA) said it
flew a 2-engine Boeing (BA.N) 737-800 over the Netherlands at
the regular altitude of 10 kilometres, at the maximum 13
kilometres, and at other levels.
"We have found nothing unusual, neither during the flight,
nor during the first inspection on the ground," said KLM Chief
Executive Peter Hartman, who took part in the test flight.
"If the technical examination confirms this image, we are
ready tomorrow to fly back our seven planes from Duesseldorf to
Amsterdam," he said in a statement. "We then hope to get
permission as soon as possible to partially restart our
operations and get our passengers to their destinations."
FLIGHTS IN FRANCE, BELGIUM
European aviation agency Eurocontrol said no landings or
takeoffs were possible for civilian aircraft in most of northern
and central Europe because of the ash spewed out by an Icelandic
volcano, which was still erupting.
A Dutch government spokeswoman said Saturday's tests were
being conducted at the request of the European Union to see
whether the travel disruption could be alleviated.
The KLM and Lufthansa flights were part of a series of tests
across the European Union, and flights had also taken place in
France and Belgium, she said.
Depending on the test results and expert opinions, more
tests could take place on Sunday, the spokeswoman from the Dutch
Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management said.
"You have to picture the ash as very fine glass particles.
We have to know what the impact is on the plane," she said.
The ministry also said specific safety conditions for the
flights had been set, adding that the KLM flight was taking
place under "controlled circumstances".
Lufthansa said it had wanted to bring its 10 planes back to
Frankfurt after they were diverted to Munich on Friday when the
Frankfurt airport was closed due to the volcanic dust. The
planes were a mix of Airbus EAD.PA A340s and Boeing 747-400s.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)