Normal flights resume at Ben-Gurion

Only 9 flight cancellations on Wednesday.

By RON FRIEDMAN, AP
April 22, 2010 06:01
3 minute read.
A woman cries as she hugs her daughter arriving ye

Ben gurion normal 311. (photo credit: Lefteris Pitarkis/AP)

 
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Though Israel has yet to see a trace of the massive cloud of volcanic ash that has been blanketing Europe for the past week, its airline industry, like those the world over, has certainly felt its impact. A total of 437 incoming and outgoing flights were canceled at Ben-Gurion Airport, according to an Israel Aviation Authority report on Wednesday.

Like other airports, Ben-Gurion’s flight operations began returning to normal on Wednesday, after the cloud of ash subsided Tuesday night. On Wednesday only nine flights were canceled, compared to 123 on Sunday and 117 on Monday. A total of 69,920 passengers were affected by the crisis when their flights were canceled or delayed, some 29% of the airport’s flight volume.

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“We are pleased to announce that the company’s flights are returning to their regular schedule and we want to thank you for your patience and hard work since the crisis began,” read a letter El Al sent out to travel agents earlier in the day.

El Al also announced that it urged passengers whose flights had been canceled and had yet to arrive at their destination to rebook their flights immediately, and said that refunds for unused tickets for canceled flights could be applied for beginning April 28.

Foreign airlines have also renewed flights to Israel, with Air France, EasyJet, KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways all landing in Ben-Gurion on Wednesday.

“Due to the extent of the disruption, it will take several days to resume normal operations and delays are likely,” read a statement from low-cost operator EasyJet. “Passengers booked on an EasyJet flight today should visit the company’s Web site before traveling to the airport to find the latest status of their flight.”

Airspace in northern and central Europe continued to reopen Wednesday, although some airports in the north had to close again due to the volcanic ash cloud. The EU transport commission says that up to 80% of flights are expected to take place as scheduled. Airlines lost an estimated $1.7 billion in revenue during the crisis.



On Wednesday, planes were flying into all of Europe’s top airports, but experts predicted it could take days – even more than a week – to clear the backlog of stranded passengers following the cancellation worldwide of about 102,000 flights.

Eurocontrol, the air traffic control agency in Brussels, said 21,000 of the continent’s 28,000 scheduled flights were going ahead Wednesday. Air traffic controllers lifted all restrictions over German airspace, but some restrictions remained over parts of Britain, Ireland and France.

Spain, which has remained mostly open throughout the crisis, developed into a key emergency travel hub, arranging for hundreds of special flights to move over 40,000 people stranded by the travel disruptions.

In London, Britain’s transport secretary, Andrew Adonis, denied that the government decided to reopen the skies to air travel under pressure from airlines.

“They have obviously wanted to be able to fly their planes – of course they have – but that has not been the issue at stake here,” he told the BBC.

In Berlin, Giovanni Bisignani, the head of the International Air Transport Association, called the economic fallout from the six-day travel shutdown “devastating” and urged European governments to examine ways to compensate airlines for lost revenues, as the US government did following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

He said it would take three years for the industry to recover from the week of lost flying time.

Airlines lost $400 million per day during the first three days of grounding, Bisignani told a news conference Wednesday. At one stage, 29% of global aviation, and 1.2 million passengers a day, were affected by the airspace closure ordered by European governments, which feared the risk that volcanic ash could pose to airplanes.

“For an industry that lost $9.4b. last year and was forecast to lose a further $2.8b. in 2010, this crisis is devastating,” Bisignani said. “Governments should help carriers recover the cost of this disruption.”

He noted that the scale of the crisis eclipsed the events of September 11, 2001, when US airspace was closed for three days.

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