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New ash-avoidance procedures set

BRUSSELS — The European air safety agency is proposing a new set of procedures that would significantly decrease airspace closures due to volcanic ash, a spokesman said today.

Daniel Hoeltgen said the new solution would adopt the U.S. practice of imposing a 120-mile (190 kilometer) no-fly buffer zone for all aircraft in the vicinity of any visible ash plume.

The change, which still has to be approved, would be a significant departure from previous practices in Europe.

Last month, a large part of European airspace was closed when ash from the Icelandic volcano drifted over northern and western parts of the continent. Many critics have criticized the move as an unnecessary overreaction. It forced the cancellation of 100,000 flights, stranded hundreds of thousands of passengers, and caused direct losses of more than €1 billion ($1.3 billion) to the airlines.

“I can confirm that the agency has been discussing a new solution to the renewed threat of airspace closures due to the volcanic ash cloud,” Hoeltgen said.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the European Commission, and airlines and other national authorities have been involved in the consultations. he said.

“We have put forward a proposal for an air traffic rule, effectively adopting the U.S. rules,” Hoeltgen said. “But this has yet to be agreed by European authorities.”

Over the weekend, a new eruption from the Eyjafjallajokul volcano caused lesser disruptions of air traffic between North America and Europe. It also floated over the Iberian Peninsula other parts of southern Europe, eventually touching the North African coast in Morocco before starting to disperse.

Eurocontrol, the continent’s air safety management agency, said small areas of high ash concentration at lower altitudes were still causing difficulties today for trans-Atlantic flights. They were also affecting the islands of Madeira and the Azores in the mid-Atlantic.

Meanwhile, Morocco’s Transport Ministry said that all airports have reopened and air traffic had normalized on after a daylong shutdown prompted by the drifting ash. Ten Moroccan airports were closed yesterday after the plume spread to North Africa.

The director of the Tangiers airport on the Mediterranean, Bouchta Moussaid, said “the cloud will leave Moroccan airspace in the coming hours” but that the airport is functioning normally.

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