AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - 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 said it flew 10 planes to Frankfurt from Munich, mostly flying at a ‘visual level’ of 3,000 meters while also testing conditions through to a height of 8,000 meters, 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 the continent.
Volcanic ash has an abrasive effect and can strip off vital aerodynamic surfaces and paralyze an aircraft engine, while aircraft avionics and electronics can also be damaged.
KLM, part of Franco-Dutch Air France-KLM said it flew a 2-engine Boeing 737-800 over the Netherlands at the regular altitude of 10 kilometers, at the maximum 13 kilometers, 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.”
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 A340s and Boeing 747-400s.
Editing by Dominic Evans