European Air Traffic Close to Normal

An arrivals screen shows on time from Europe to Chicago at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, 21 Apr 2010(VOA News)
Europe's air traffic control agency says almost all European airspace is open to flights again.

Eurocontrol says it expects Europe to have at least 28,000 flights Thursday, after a huge cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland turned almost the entire continent into a no-fly zone for six days.

Eurocontrol says flight restrictions remain only in northern Scotland and parts of southern Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Thousands of passengers were stuck in airports and hotels Wednesday. Eurocontrol said the volcanic ash caused about 95,000 flight cancellations since last Thursday.

The International Air Transport Association called the cancellations "devastating," saying they cost the airline industry almost $2 billion ($1.7 billion) dollars.

The group's chief, Giovanni Bisignani, urged governments to look at ways to compensate airlines for their losses.

Two major European travel agencies - Thomas Cook and TUI - criticized the British government for shutting down its airspace.

But Britain's Civil Aviation Authority said the main barrier to resuming flights had been determining how much ash aircraft could tolerate. Scientists said flying thorough volcanic ash could cause jet engines to shut down in mid-flight.

The volcano that caused the flight cancellations still was erupting Wednesday, but producing much less ash.

The U.S. State Department said it has helped U.S. citizens and others, including a group of Nazi concentration camp survivors who needed a new hotel and an elderly patient in Frankfurt needing specialized medical treatment. Among European efforts to help stranded passengers, Britain sent a warship to Spain to pick up civilians and troops on their way home from Afghanistan.
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