04/21/2010, 00.00
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Flights resumed from Asia to Europe, but not all

links with major European airports restored since yesterday. But it will take weeks to return to normal. Priority to passenger flights, not goods.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Normal flights from Asia to major European airports resumed today, after having been closed for days because of ashes from the Icelandic volcano Evjafjallajokull that began exhaling thick clouds of smoke on April 14. The situation remains complex for thousands of passengers waiting for days and will take time to normalize, provided that the volcano does not erupt once again.

The first flights already left Hong Kong yesterday bound for Paris, Toulouse, Frankfurt, Munich, Amsterdam and others, but many flights have been cancelled despite optimistic forecasts, while the departure of others were delayed such as those for Rome and Milan.

Today the major airlines such as Cathay Pacific Airways, Singapore Airlines Ltd, All Nippon Airlines and Korean Air Lines Co., resumed flights to airports such as Paris, London, Madrid, Milan and Frankfurt. Air China has announced the resumption of links to Moscow, Stockholm and Rome.

But it will take weeks to return to normal. The cancellation of about 90 thousand flights led to the cancellation of meetings between governments, forced carmakers to cut production, depressed the market for fresh foods. Cathay Pacific has 16 thousand passengers on hold and will not accept new bookings to Europe until May 10. There are going to give priority to passenger flights, compared to the transport of goods, partly because European airports have little chance of receiving a large number of extra flights. Many airlines will use their more capacious planes. In Hong Kong, the world’s largest airport for air cargo, until yesterday, approximately 1,100 tonnes of cargo remained pending.

The airlines are still optimistic and expect that if there are no other problems from the volcano they will have limited losses. Ivan Chu, head of Cathay passengers service, noted that "flights to Europe are more than 10% of our turnover, so the consequences are quite important." The damage is greater for industrial products for export. Nissan Motor Co. has halted production of about 2 thousand vehicles in Japanese factories, while Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. say they have decreased production.  

Moreover there is still considerable uncertainty because the airport authorities in Europe are reluctant to reopen the entire airspace because the cloud of ash that has clogged airspace over 6 thousand meters. Countries such as France, Germany and Belgium want to restore flights gradually.  The traffic agency Eurocontrol in Brussels today said that it expects only 53% of the 27,500 daily flights in Europe will be restored. But most of Britain's airports remain closed, because of new eruptions of ash from the North Sea heading towards the country.

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