Peter Bennett VIENNA NATO's Yugoslav bombing campaign is taking its toll on central European air services

Europe's airlines are counting the costs of the Kosovo conflict as the effects of cancelled routes, extra flying time and a drop in transit passenger numbers kick in.

Austrian Airlines says in the first week of the crises in mid-March it lost Sch10 million ($800,000) as it cancelled flights to Tirana, Skopje, Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Belgrade, although it re-opened its Bosnian routes during the second week. Extra flying time on southbound routes was also needed, although the carrier says that a new service to Tripoli has compensated for these losses.

Hungarian flag carrier Malev also had to cancel flights to destinations in Albania and cities throughout the former Yugoslavia, but restarted flights to Skopje and Tirana by the middle of May. Andreas Vilmos, the airline's director of controlling, adds that since mid-April Malev had also experienced a drop in the number of transit passengers.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa has been hit because military flights have taken priority over civil operations at Frankfurt. "This is producing conditions of near gridlock at Frankfurt," says one consultant close to Lufthansa. Extra flying time and fuel costs have also been incurred in avoiding the Balkan region.

Alitalia has been seriously affected. It had lost L40 billion ($22.1 million) by mid-May as a result of the initial closure and partial functioning of Brindisi and Bari airports, in southern Italy, which forced it to cancel some domestic flights.

Eurocontrol estimates that NATO action is responsible of around one third of current delays in Europe. The pan-European air traffic control agency has published an Avoidance Routing Scheme for the region revolving round a no-fly-zone for the Adriatic coast.

Source: Airline Business