German airports reopen after volcanic ash cloud delay

The Icelandic volcano ash cloud drifting over Northern Europe grounded hundreds of flights, frustrating travelers.

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
People line up at the ticket counter of the Air Berlin airline at Tegel airport in Berlin after all flights were cancelled due to volcanic ash in the skies over northern Germany, on May 25.

Airports in northern Germany, including Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen, closed for nearly six hours this morning as ash from the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn reached the country’s airspace.

About 700 flights had to be canceled, affecting tens of thousands of passengers, according to the European air traffic agency, Eurocontrol. As of Wednesday, all airports have reopened. The closures have raised some questions about Germany's airport regulations.

“Security is our top priority,” said German transport minister Peter Ramsauer on public television ARD. After last year’s eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano crippled air-traffic in the Northern hemisphere for weeks and led to the cancellation of about 100,000 flights, Germany introduced strict limits: If the concentration of ash in the air surpasses 2 milligrams per cubic meter, planes are grounded.

Critics argue that these limits are arbitrary and inconsistent with the regulations in the rest of Europe. Germany pilots association Cockpit, says that the restrictions were introduced without scientific foundations.

“They just took a very conservative estimate and added a security buffer," says Cockpit spokesman Jörg Handwerg. “We need tests and studies to support the rules.”

Minister Ramsauer countered the criticism by accusing aircraft manufacturers of failing to provide information on how much ash their engines were able to take.

Airlines in Britain sharply criticized the authorities for closing UK airspace Tuesday. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary accused them of “bureaucratic incompetence” and said his airline had flown two of its aircraft through the ash zone without encountering any problems. Norway and Denmark also saw disruptions in air traffic on Tuesday.

The Grimsvötn volcano, which began erupting last Saturday, appears to have stopped emitting ash early on Wednesday.

European Union transport commissioner Siim Kallas said: "We do not at this stage anticipate widespread airspace closure and prolonged disruption like we saw last year.

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