Test flights to protest the European ban

A RAFT of European commercial airliners launched test flights this weekend, despite flight bans, in a bid to protest against decisions to ground flights in the UK and most of Northern Europe as the Icelandic volcano continued to erupt.

British Airways (BA), Air France, KLM and Lufthansa each flew a collection of test flights throughout the weekend as frustration amongst the aviation industry grew over the number of grounded planes and stranded passengers.

“We are amazed that the results of the test flights done by Lufthansa and Air Berlin have not had any bearing on the decision-making of the air safety authorities,” said Joachim Hunold chief executive at Air Berlin.

Analysts said that the airlines were looking to start discussions with authorities over the continued flight ban.

“The airlines are looking to open up a debate with authorities by flying during the ban,” said Charles Stanley analyst Douglas McNeill.

BA yesterday joined the ranks of its European counterparts after launching a test flight from Heathrow airport with chief executive Willie Walsh as the only passenger onboard a 747 jet, along with maintenance crew and pilots.

The airline said: “In line with action by other European airlines and subject to approval from the relevant authorities, we are planning to operate a test flight.”

The four day disruption is already expected to cost the European airline industry more than $250m (£130.3m) a day in lost revenues, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

IATA has set up a crisis centre in Montreal and is coordinating with Eurocontrol and European air navigation service providers.

Flights were grounded last week after the Eyjafjallajökull volcano sent plumes of ash into the atmosphere.