Experts: Airlines must intensify engine checks

BRUSSELS (AP) — Experts warned that airlines resuming flights over large swaths of Europe on Tuesday should carry out extensive engine inspections if there is any suspicion that an aircraft has flown through volcanic ash.

No plane has flown though any zone containing ash, which are off-limits to air traffic. according to Eurocontrol, the continent's air traffic agency. It said much of the ash plume has dissipated over the past two days, and is now found in significant concentrations only over the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea.

But airlines and experts still say they want to conduct random engine tests as a safety precaution, in case the planes encounter lingering traces of airborne particles in zones deemed generally free of the contaminants.

"If in the normal course of events, a flight crew were to suspect that they have flown through or near the ash cloud, this must be reported and an engine inspection must be undertaken on the ground," said Martin Chalk, president of the Brussels-based European Cockpit Association which represents 38,200 pilots from 36 European nations.

Volcanic ash can cause serious damage because of the way the intense engine heat interacts with the particles.

Test flights or ferry flights by about three dozen airliners in France, Holland, Germany and Britain on Monday experienced no ill effects from ash, said David Henderson, spokesman for the Association of European Airlines. He said airlines did not expect that they would have to increase the tempo of regular engine checks.

"As far as airlines are concerned, they are confident that their established, regular maintenance inspections are perfectly adequate to detect the effects of ash," Henderson said.

Over 95,000 flights in or across Europe have had to be canceled since last Wednesday due to the ash spewing out of a volcano in southern Iceland. The ash plume quickly reached the jetstream and was spread eastward over most of northern and central Europe.

On Monday, the European Union announced that flight restrictions caused by the ash cloud can now be eased after concentrations of airborne particles appeared to be diminishing.

All commercial flying will still be banned in areas of high ash contamination, but regular flights would be resumed in those areas clear of the particles, and in an intermediate buffer zone where the air mass will be carefully monitored to make sure flight conditions are safe.


Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Brussels, Robert Barr in London, and Josh Freed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.