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Volcanic ash: Correspondent reports

BBC correspondents report on how countries around the world have been handling fall-out from the Iceland volcano eruption.

DUNCAN KENNEDY, ROME

Italy is often described as two countries in one, with the north very different to the south.

A passenger rests next to her belongings in a dormitory area set up for passengers at Malpensa airport, on the outskirts of Milan
Many passengers at Milan's Malpensa airport were forced to travel south

Iceland's volcanic tentacles have stretched here, too, proving that north-south maxim once again.

Airports in the north, especially the two in Milan, have been worst affected, whilst southern ones like Fiumicino and Ciampino in Rome have been left open.

At Milan's Malpensa airport, which is expected to be back to normal on Thursday, there's been a lot of chaos, with passengers forced to travel south to the airports that are open, or use other forms of transport, like the extra trains put on by Trenitalia.

Some taxi drivers in Rome have been taking passengers as far as Brussels, charging one euro a kilometre (£0.86, $1.33) - the distance being about 1,171 kilometres or 728 miles.

Because much of Italian air capacity has been able to operate, this crisis hasn't become the political and commercial football it's been in other countries.

The Italian government didn't produce a rescue package, because it hasn't been needed.

Nature's winds have produced a fair wind for the country's politicians, if not all its travellers.

JULIAN ISHERWOOD, COPENHAGEN

In the Nordic region, governments have taken a back seat to civil aviation authorities in determining the level of airspace closure across a vast region that spans from Greenland in the west, through Norway and Sweden, to Finland in the east and Denmark in the south.

A man makes a phone call in Copenhagen International Airport in Kastrup which was closed on Saturday, April 17, 2010 as a cloud of volcanic ash from the eruption under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland, once again forced the cancellation of all flights in and out of Denmark
Danish airspace remained closed for several days

And although Denmark, Sweden and Norway have seen their financially strained joint regional carrier SAS sink further into the mire of financial loss, none have been prepared to put pressure on authorities to lift airspace closures prematurely.

While some government spokesmen have suggested that a form of compensation could be considered for airlines that have suffered from the no-fly ban, ministers have generally said that any compensation could be construed as unfair competition, and would not be forthcoming.

"I don't want any state support competition. The motor vehicle industry taught us that there must be a co-ordinated response," said Sweden's Minister for Business Maud Olofsson, implicitly suggesting that a co-ordinated European response would perhaps be acceptable.

To help the plight of passengers, however, Denmark's Danish People's Party MEP Morten Messerschmidt says he plans to propose a common European travel guarantee fund to help air passengers in extreme situations such as that forced by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud.

The Nordic governments themselves have not generally made special arrangements for travellers, or designated hubs.

With thousands of passengers stranded across the world, many foreign passengers stranded in the Nordic region and faced with airlines screaming to be allowed to get back in the air, governments have been predominantly concerned with urging the monitoring and aviation authorities to determine exactly how high the threat to aircraft has been.

And as restrictions were lifted across most of the region on Wednesday, passengers began to inundate airports to scramble for available flights, while others returned from non-European destinations.

Denmark alone has 10,000 nationals stranded abroad.

"I'll take a plane, bus, train or ferry - as long as I get closer to home ," said Londoner Ian Adam who arrived in Copenhagen in a standby-seat from New York and hopes to reach Britain.

He has been stranded in New York for almost a week.

DOMINIC HUGHES, BRUSSELS

The skies above Belgium have been declared free of ash and planes are flying once again.

Brussels airport is expecting around 60,000 passengers and is hoping for around 270 inbound and 250 outbound flights on Wednesday.

Belgian tourists who were evacuated by the Belgian Army and Belgian airlines company SN Brussels embrace relatives as they arrive in Zaventem airport on April 21, 2010, in Belgium.
Some Belgian tourists were evacuated by the Belgian army

That's a big step up from Tuesday, when around 20,000 passengers moved through the airport.

Flights from the smaller regional airports at Antwerp and Charleroi are also resuming.

Belgian charter and holiday companies have also been laying on special flights to bring back stranded holiday makers from the Canary Islands, Egypt, Turkey and the Caribbean.

But the priority seems to be flights from Africa.

Belgium's colonial history means it has close ties with Francophone Africa and Brussels Airlines has been providing special services from Senegal, Rwanda, Congo and Gambia.

TRISTANA MOORE, BERLIN

Germans breathed a huge sigh of relief on Wednesday when their country's no-fly zone was lifted at 1100, ending days of chaos and travel disruption.

It is estimated that around 230,000 German tourists had been affected by the ash-cloud since the restrictions were imposed five days ago.

The air traffic authority said the decision to re-open German airspace was based on new information from the German Weather Service and insisted that it was not a political decision.

Germany's biggest carrier, Lufthansa, said it was planning to operate 500 flights on Wednesday - with the focus on long-haul routes - which is well below the daily average of 1800 flights. The airline said it would be another few days before services return to normal.

Passengers queue in Berlin's Tegel airport, Germany, 21 April 2010
The journeys of 230,000 German tourists were affected by the ash-cloud

Germany's second biggest airline, Air Berlin, said it was hoping to run all its flights on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Lufthansa, Air Berlin and other tour operators had already resumed some flights under controversial "visual flight" conditions in order to bring thousands of German holidaymakers back home.

Germany's biggest tour operator, Tui, chartered extra aircraft to pick up 20,000 German tourists who were stuck abroad. Under the "visual flight" rules, aircraft are allowed to fly beneath 3,000m in good weather conditions with pilots relying on their own eyesight, as well as the aircraft's radar, to avoid other planes and obstacles.

But the German pilots' union, Cockpit, criticised the decision to run visual flights as "irresponsible and scandalous", claiming airlines were bowing to commercial pressures and were jeopardising the safety of passengers.

German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer also came under fire for his handling of the crisis. On Wednesday, Ramsauer hit back and insisted that he had sought the advice of meteorological and air safety experts.



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