ASH CLOUD LIVE: IATA furious at 'theoretical' basis for airspace closures

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IATA is heavily criticising the European response to the airspace crisis caused by the Icelandic volcano, accusing governments of basing critical decisions on unreliable or incomplete information.

The organisation is urging Eurocontrol to set up a volcanic activity contingency centre and is seeking an urgent ICAO meeting to review the decision-making process and ensure airspace closure is the result of co-ordinated efforts and detailed data.

In the wake of several airlines' execution of test flights into the volcanic ash cloud, the airline organisation says that decisions on operational safety should be founded on "fact, not theory", referring to the computer-based modelling of the ash-cloud's development.

"Governments have not taken their responsibility to make clear decisions based on facts," says director general Giovanni Bisignani.

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"Instead, it has been the air navigation service providers who announced that they would not provide service - and these decisions have been taken without adequately consulting the airlines."

He claims that the "blanket" closure of airspace means a number of airlines have unreasonably been denied opportunities to operate safely.

"This is not an acceptable system particularly when the consequences for safety and the economy are so large," he says. "Risk assessments should be able to help us re-open certain corridors, if not entire airspaces."

European ministers are holding an emergency teleconference today, but this has done little to reassure IATA.

"We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction on how governments have managed it - with no risk assessment, no consultation, no coordination, and no leadership," says Bisignani.

IATA last week estimated the daily cost of the shutdown, which began on 15 April, at $200 million.

"In the face of such dire economic consequences, it is incredible that Europe's transport ministers have taken five days to organize a teleconference," says Bisignani.

"Governments must place greater urgency and focus on how and when we can safely re-open Europe's skies. This means decisions based on risk-management, facts and utilising operational procedures that maintain safety."