Under increasingly intense pressure from the airline industry that is losing $200 million a day, European officials carved up the sky into 3 sections or zones today. European countries can resume airline traffic in designated “zones” where the threat of ash is considered less dangerous, French officials said after a meeting of the bloc’s 27 transport ministers. The effect of creating three zones is to quickly break the flight deadlock caused by volcanic ash flowing from Iceland over Europe.
- Zone 1 is an open air zone for all flights
- Zone 2 is considered a slight hazard or caution flight zone where only some flights will be allowed
- Zone 3 is too dangerous for any flights and will remain closed for the time being
These zones were created by Eurocontrol which is the European Air Traffic control agency. Jean-Louis Borloo, the No. 2 French Cabinet official, said flights in the caution zone will be “very secure” with many tests to make sure jet engines are not damaged by ash. Eurocontrol moved to create these zones after the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Belgium said they would begin to reopen airspace in part on Monday with more opening on Tuesday. Belgium also said it would begin reopening the country’s airspace from Tuesday morning.
A NATO F-16 fighter jet suffered engine damage after flying through the volcanic ash cloud near Helsinki, said one US official earlier. In the high temperatures of an engine turbine, ash can turn to molten glass and paralyze the engine. But experts said the volcano – which erupted last Wednesday for the second time in a month – was now spewing more steam and less ash.
European airlines have begun asking for a bailout due to the governments lack of scientific measurements for the prolonged airspace closures. At a global loss of $200 million a day European airlines have easily lost hundreds of millions in canceled airfare revenue. Whether those losses are permanent or merely on hold transactions as passengers wait for the sky’s to clear before re-booking their flights is a point of contention on both sides of the issue.