European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said: "Volcanos don't obey any rules and this is a situation that is evolving by the hour. What is clear however is that, one year on, lessons have been learnt and we are in a much better position to manage the challenge of ash affecting Europe. As the situation evolves, this may still prove to be a very challenging week for passengers and the aviation sector, but there are new tools in place that allow for a more precise risk assessment to avoid, in so far as possible, closure of European airspace whilst ensuring safety".
Last year, 336 flights to and from Malta were cancelled, resulting in a loss of around 35,000 passenger movements at Malta International Airport. MIA Chief Executive Officer, Julian Jaeger had said MIA deployed additional staff to ensure smooth queue management and deal with constant customer requests for information. MIA also set up more free internet access terminals for passengers to be able to re-book their travel arrangements online and offered complimentary refreshments and respite facilities for mothers with infants.
Over the last year, intensive work has been carried out at international and European level to revise procedures to manage ash – including the revision of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) ash contingency plans for Europe, as well as the establishment of new European crisis cell, and intensive work on ash thresholds.
The EACCC will issue guidance to Member States recommending that they adopt a revised approach in line with the new guidance material for Europe developed by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation).
This approach allows airlines to decide if they will fly in areas with areas contaminated by ash, on the basis of a safety risk assessment accepted by the relevant national supervisory authorities. These are the necessary tools to help airlines and Member States decide if it is safe to fly or not. This is a much more precise approach to avoid closure of European Airspace whilst ensuring safety.
As the situation is constantly evolving, the European Commission, EUROCONTROL and EASA will continue to provide all relevant information to national authorities to enable them to take the best possible decisions on how to manage safety in their national airspace in the interest of the travelling public.
Passenger rights will apply in the event we have a disruption. Even in these kinds of exceptional circumstances, airlines have an obligation to provide information, re-routing or re-imbursement of ticket price, and care. At all times passengers are asked to make reasonable claims in what are extremely difficult circumstances for all concerned. And passengers should always check flight information before they travel to the airport, to avoid where possible unnecessary disruption.