PARIS – As airline losses from the volcanic ash cloud spiraled over $1 billion on Monday, the industry demanded EU compensation and criticized European governments for relying too much on scientific theory — not fact — in their decisions to shut down airspace across the continent.
Shares of some European airlines fell as flight disruptions from the volcanic cloud moved into a fifth day, and the International Air Transport Association complained of "no leadership" from government leaders — one of whom admitted to EU dissension about how to respond.
"It's embarrassing, and a European mess," IATA CEO Giovanni Bisignani told The Associated Press. "It took five days to organize a conference call with the ministers of transport and we are losing $200 million per day (and) 750,000 passengers are stranded all over. Does it make sense?"
IATA officials said the $200 million estimate was at the low-end of their projections, and that it could run as high as $250 million-$300 million a day.
Even as airline officials were clamoring for relief — both financial and operational — a senior Western diplomat told The Associated Press that several NATO F-16 fighter jets had suffered engine damage after flying through the cloud, suggesting government caution was warranted.
The official declined to provide more details on the military flights, except to say that glasslike deposits were found in the planes' engines after they patrolled over unspecified European airspace.
European civil aviation authorities held a conference call Monday about what steps could be taken toward opening airspace, and transport ministers of all 27 European Union members were conferring by phone and videoconference.
Dominique Bussereau, France's transport minister, told reporters Monday that he had urged EU president Spain. ever since Saturday. to call the ministerial meeting immediately — but Madrid declined.
"Naturally, it would have been better if had taken place Sunday or Saturday," Bussereau said.
British Airways said airlines have asked the EU for financial compensation for the closure of airspace, starting last Wednesday. With London among the first hubs shut down, the British carrier said it's losing as much as 20 million pounds ($30 million) per day.
BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh pointed out that compensation had been paid to airlines after the closure of U.S. airspace following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"This is an unprecedented situation that is having a huge impact on customers and airlines alike," Walsh said. "We continue to offer as much support as we can to our customers, however, these are extraordinary circumstances that are beyond all airlines' control."
Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo — the No. 2 in the French Cabinet — said a meeting of French airlines, travel agencies and the government was planned for Tuesday to examine possible state aid to the industry.
"This aid will evolve of course based on the severity of the crisis. For that, we need a European pre-accord that we have obtained — an accord in principle so this sector aid can be allocated," Borloo told France's i-Tele.
German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer said government decisions were based on a "sea of data" — and defended the continued closure of air space in his country. He brushed off airlines' complaints about losses, saying they know about their susceptibility to weather conditions.
"It is completely obvious that you have to calculate with such risks," he told Radio station Deutschlandfunk. "And I defend myself right away against any calls to the government," to compensate for the corporate losses.
The IATA, in a statement, called on governments to place "greater urgency and focus on how and when we can safely reopen Europe's skies" — such as through more in-depth study of the ash cloud.
"We have to not just use — as the Europeans were doing — a theoretical model, let's try to use figures and facts," Bisignani said." It means sending test planes at certain kinds of altitudes to check what was the situation with the ashes."
While the association says "safety is our top priority," Bisignani said in the statement that its member airlines have run test flights with no problems and "they report missed opportunities to fly safely."
Bisignani said that Europe — unlike the United States, for example — is "not well-equipped" when it comes to planes that can test the air quality in the skies. He estimated that once flights in Europe do resume, it would take three to six days for traffic to return to normal.
France's Borloo said disparate analyses needed to be brought together based on "real tests on real planes with real pilots," so some air "corridors" could be reopened.
"The issue today is not to reopen all European commercial airspace, the issue today is to increase the ability to reopen corridors to allow the general de-congestion of European traffic," he told reporters.
Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, the No. 2 executive at Air France-KLM, said his company is losing euro35 million a day and called for more test flights to see if routes are safe to fly. He said the French-Dutch carrier conducted five test flights on its own Sunday and planned another seven Monday.
Speaking to reporters Monday at Air France headquarters near Paris' main airport, Gourgeon said aviation authorities had relied on "insufficient" information when they imposed a near-blanket flight ban in some countries.
The prospect of continued losses and flight cancelations pushed down shares of many airlines. In early afternoon trade Europe, German carrier Deutsche Lufthansa AG was down 3.9 percent to euro12.24 in Frankfurt; Air France-KLM SA dropped 4.5 percent to euro11.87, and British Airways was down 4.4 percent to 224.6 British pence.
Associated Press Writers Juergen Baetz in Berlin, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.
NEW YORK – A gauge of future economic activity jumped 1.4 percent in March, the fastest pace of growth in 10 months.
The rise in the Conference Board's index of leading economic indictors suggests economic growth is likely to continue for the next three to six months.
Economists polled by Thomson Reuters had expected the index to grow 0.9 percent last month.
The report says the leading indicators' growth was 0.4 percent in February and 0.6 percent in January, up from previous estimates of 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent.
Seven of the 10 indicators increased in March.
"The indicators point to a slow recovery that should continue over the next few months," Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, said.
TOKYO – Asian markets fell in early trading Monday as financial stocks tumbled amid news of fraud charges against Goldman Sachs.
Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average lost 1.8 percent to 10,901.33 and South Korea's Kospi retreated 1.3 percent to 1,711.99. Stock markets in Australia, mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore were also sharply lower.
On Friday, the Dow Jones industrials declined 1.1 percent to 11,018.66 after Federal regulators filed civil fraud charges against Goldman Sachs over its dealings in subprime mortgages.
Analysts say the market was poised to fall after a steady run of gains the past two months, and the Goldman Sachs news gave investors a reason to sell and take some profits.
Financial names came under intense selling pressure in Asia, with Japanese banking shares among the heaviest casualties. Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. plunged 4.4 percent and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc.was down 3.3 percent.
A firm yen also weighed on exporters in Tokyo trade. Honda Motor Co. fell 1.2 percent and Toyota Motor Corp. fell 1.6 percent.
Oil prices continued to slide with benchmark crude for May delivery down $1.57 to $81.67 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
In currencies, the dollar was trading at 92.01 yen from 91.93 yen late Friday. The euro fell to $1.3463 from $1.3476.