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04.10.2010 European airlines reiterate need for new ash-flight policies

European airlines have renewed calls to change the policies that govern flights through volcanic ash.

The Association of European Airlines (AEA) believes that European authorities should align their practices with those of the USA, so that airlines would bear responsibility for ensuring safe operation.

Speaking at the MRO Europe show in London, AEA chairman and British Airways chief Willie Walsh acknowledged that "volcanic ash, at certain levels of density, is a safety hazard", but added: "At lower levels, it ceases to be a safety hazard but it is still nonetheless an MRO issue, as operators face the possibility of increased wear and tear on the engines."

He believes this distinction "was not well understood" by the authorities that effected the five-day closure of European airspace in April.

Under the AEA's proposal, the "best possible information, from a range of sources" would be relayed to airlines to inform their decisions, under an adapted US model. "With more frequent eruptions, the USA gets more practice," says Walsh.

The association is also seeking changes to the European consumer protection rules.

These regulations were "never designed for an extraordinary, open-ended event such as the Icelandic eruption", argues Walsh: "It turned the airlines, effectively, into insurers of last resort, for an event that was completely outside their control."

Walsh says he looks forward to "sensible and reasonable changes" following consultation on the regulation.