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Volcanic ash aftermath: EU calls creating single airspace a top priority

European Union transportation authorities will create a new traffic control system to deal with crises like volcanic ash more effectively.

By Emma Vandore and Raf CasertAssociated Press / May 4, 2010

Passengers wait for flights at Dublin Airport, Tuesday, May, 4, 2010. The Irish Aviation Authority decided to impose a 'no-fly zone' over Ireland on Monday night, under advice from the Volcanic Ash Advice Centre in London that there was a risk of volcanic ash ingestion to aircraft engines.

Peter Morrison/AP



EU transport ministers vowed Tuesday to reform the continent's patchwork air traffic control system into a seamless European airspace and to establish binding rules to determine when volcanic ash makes it too dangerous to fly.

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At an emergency aviation meeting, they vowed that the airspace reform was "a top priority" to reduce any possible future travel chaos caused by volcanic ash.

Underscoring how awareness of the danger has changed in only three weeks, EU Tranport Commissioner Siim Kallas said Tuesday's ash cloud — which forced only Ireland and remote areas of Scotland to shut services temporarily — would have grounded huge swaths of Europe in mid-April.

IN PICTURES: Iceland's volcano

Five days after much of Europe's airspace was shut down, the EU agreed upon a three-zone system that freed lesser-affected areas so planes could fly.

"We looked at the maps today and we clearly can say if we had used the same methodology as (April) 14, we could close again a very large part of European airspace," Kallas told reporters after the meeting.

Spanish Transport Minister Jose Blanco, who chaired the meeting, had maps of Tuesday's volcanic ash cloud spreading over Ireland and Scotland, underlining the fact that aviation chaos could return and hurt Europe during the peak summer travel season.

The ministers called for a swift technological update on how to refine tests on the density of volcanic ash to determine when it was safe to let planes fly.

All these measures should fit in a new system where the 27 nations yield to a common, seamless airspace, which makes a decision for the whole of the continent.

"We want to give top priority to those measures which will accelerate the setting up of the single European sky," said Kallas.

And after decades of bickering over the issue, Iceland's erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano has focused minds in Brussels — and Tuesday's latest swirl of ash didn't hurt.