Image: Air traffic control tower at Edinburgh Airport
Jeff J Mitchell  /  Getty Images
Greig Reid an air traffic controller looks from the air traffic control tower at Edinburgh Airport as flights were cancelled for a fifth day on April 19, in Edinburgh, Scotland.
By
updated 4/23/2010 2:01:34 PM ET 2010-04-23T18:01:34

The European Union speeded up action on a sweeping reform of its air traffic control system Friday after a crisis over volcanic ash turned much of the continent into a no-fly zone for days.

"The worst is now over, but there is a huge amount of work to be done to deal with crisis management," EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas told reporters.

Germany invited aviation experts, EU officials and industry representatives to Berlin on Tuesday to discuss setting standards for air travel, and Spain — which holds the EU's rotating presidency — said EU transport ministers would meet May 4 in Brussels for talks on a unified European airspace.

European airspace on Friday was almost completely free of volcanic ash from Iceland, according to Eurocontrol, the air traffic agency. All of British airspace was available after four small airports in Scotland reopened.

But for the first time since the April 14 eruption, Iceland's major international airport was closed after shifting winds blew the ash cloud toward the capital of Reykjavik, west of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Trans-Atlantic flights on Icelandair that usually stop in Iceland were being rerouted through Glasgow in Scotland.

Flights across the rest of Europe were proceeding normally, said Eurocontrol spokeswoman Kyla Evans. About 29,000 flights were scheduled.

A week of airspace closures caused by the ash threat to planes created the worst breakdown in civil aviation in Europe since World War II. More than 100,000 flights were canceled and airlines are on track to lose over $2 billion.

The "Single European Sky" project was supposed to have begun in 2012, but Kallas said the latest crisis showed that "we cannot afford to wait that long."

"The absence of a single European regulator for air traffic control made it very difficult to respond to this crisis. We needed a fast, coordinated European response .... instead we had a fragmented patchwork of 27 national airspaces," Kallas said.

The EU has 27 national air traffic control networks, 60 air traffic centers and hundreds of approach centers and towers. In contrast, the United States manages twice the number of flights for a similar cost using only about 20 control centers.

"Without a central regulator, Europe was operating with one hand tied behind its back," he said.

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A seamless EU air navigation system would straighten out Europe's zigzag air routes to reduce fuel burn, and beef up the role of the European Air Safety Agency that now deals largely with planes' airworthiness. It would enable a single command center to divert traffic and to provide detailed data to national air traffic centers.

Up until now, EU governments have wanted to keep full sovereignty over their airspaces for security reasons. Some employees have also fought the new program — French air traffic controllers, fearing salary cuts and job losses, have gone on strike over the issue.

In Iceland, the volcano was active Friday but its ash production was minimal.

Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, said the volcano was only spewing 10-20 metric tons of ash a second into the air, compared to 750 tons a second at the peak of the eruption.

"The threat from the volcano is now local. It is not hemispherical," he told The Associated Press. "It is mostly a steam plume. It is carrying only a small fraction of what it was before."

Video: Some flights still hampered by ash Still he said the eruption was continuing and scientists were monitoring it closely.

"I think we have seen the worst. The peak of the eruption over, but how long it will linger on is impossible to tell," he said.

France made €1 million ($1.3 million) available in aid to stranded French travelers to help cover expenses due to ash-related delays. At least 20,000 French citizens were still stranded in foreign airports Friday, primarily in the United States and east Asia.

Britain's Royal Air Force jet fighters were back in the air Friday after tests showed that the volcanic ash found in their engines didn't cause any damage, the military said.

Officials grounded all Typhoon flights Thursday for inspection after the ash's discovery, but Squadron Leader Al Green said Friday that they'd since been given the all-clear.

"They were back up in the air today, doing loop the loops and the rest of it. There was no damage found to any of the jets," he said.

Associated Press correspondents Robert Wielaard in Brussels, Jill Lawless and Jennifer Quinn in London, Daniel Woolls in Madrid, Melissa Eddy in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Volcanic eruption in Iceland

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  1. Stranded British citizens wait beside the Pride of Bilbao Ferry, at Santurtzi, northern Spain, before the trip back to Britain Wednesday, April 21. (Alvaro Barrientos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A passenger jet flies over houses as it prepares to land at Heathrow Airport, London, U.K. Flights returned to Europe's skies in greater numbers Wednesday after the chaos caused by ash blown from an erupting Icelandic volcano. (Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tourists who were evacuated by the Belgian Army hug relatives as they arrive in Zaventem airport, Belgium. (Dirk Waem / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Passengers rest as they wait for their delayed flights at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India. The International Air Transport Association says disruptions to European air travel caused by the volcanic ash cloud have cost the industry at least $1.7 billion. (Gurinder Osan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A wounded soldier is carried from a C-17 transport plane to an ambulance after it arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., carrying 20 wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, on Tuesday, April 20. Volcanic ash in the airspace over Europe prevented the U.S. military from flying battlefield wounded to an Air Force hospital in Germany. (Cliff Owen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. French citizens Mercedes and Jimmy Elahcene sit together in John F. Kennedy International Airport, Tuesday, in New York City. Stranded since Saturday, they said they do not have enough money for a hotel. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Jon Oscar Bjorgvinnossen drags a stressed and stubborn sheep across ash covered ground to a barn on the Berjanes farm near the town of Hvolsvollur, Iceland on Tuesday. The ash has contaminated the farm's grazing land making it necessary to evacuate all animals. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Relatives of passengers wave to a Lufthansa airplane as it takes off from the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Tuesday, headed for Chicago. Travel chaos in Europe began to ease as some countries resumed flights after days of closures due to volcanic ash clouds from Iceland. (Volker Hartmann / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. People greet family members at Tegel airport in Berlin after they returned from Palma de Mallorca on one of the first flights bringing passengers back to Germany on April 20. (Thomas Peter / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A member of the German Air Traffic Control center crisis management group points at a map showing the current air traffic in the sky over Germany near Frankfurt on Tuesday, April 20. The Eurocontrol air traffic agency in Brussels said it expects 55 to 60 percent of flights over Europe to go ahead Tuesday, a marked improvement over the last few days. By midmorning, 10,000 of Europe's 27,500 daily flights were scheduled to go. (Marius Becker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. An aircraft of Air Berlin approaches Tegel airport in Berlin on April 20. Frustrated by the days-long grounding, both Lufthansa and Air Berlin began flying without full air-traffic control. (Gero Breloer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Passengers sleep at the T4 Barajas airport, in Madrid, Spain, on April 20. Spain offered to let Britain and other European countries use its airports as stopovers to get passengers stranded by the volcanic ash cloud traveling again by train, bus and ferry. (Daniel Ochoa de Olza / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kaylian Vanhadenhoven, 13, of Belgium, offers bread and jam to other stranded passengers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on April 20, as many passengers traveling to and from Europe were still stuck due to canceled flights. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Ash and smoke bellow from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano near Hella, Iceland, on Tuesday, April 20. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A technician takes a photograph of an engine on a Lufthansa aircraft at Tegel airport in Berlin, on April 20. (Gero Breloer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. An Icelandic farmer clears ash from a goat house after heavy ash billowing from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano covered this farm in Steinar, Iceland, on April 20. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A British family prepares to board the Royal Navy warship HMS Albion at Santander's port, northern Spain, on April 20. (Alvaro Barrientos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A woman hugs her boyfriend as he arrives at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on April 20. (Toussaint Kluiters / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. When the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano began erupting on March 20, the first lava to erupt came from vents on the lower slopes of the volcano, which were snow-covered, but not under the mountain’s year-round ice cap. Lava flows filled gullies and built mounds of frothy rock, and they melted and vaporized the winter snow, creating relatively small steam plumes. In mid-April, however, the character of the eruption changed dramatically, and this natural-color satellite image from April 17 provides a look at the new eruptive phase. A cloud of charcoal-brown ash covers half the image. A fresh plume of ash rises over the summit, its southern face illuminated by sunlight and its northern face deeply shadowed. The ash column casts a tall shadow onto the snow-covered ground to the north. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Huw Thomas, of England, eats his breakfast in his cot at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Monday, April 19. Thomas and his family were originally supposed to fly back to England from a vacation in New York on Friday, April 16, but now they are unsure of when they'll be able to return home. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Molten lava shoots out of an erupting volcano near Eyjafjallajokull, on April 19. An Icelandic volcano that has grounded planes across Europe is spitting lava but less ash, officials said on Monday, offering travellers hope that skies might clear at a faster rate. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A passenger rests on her belongings in the departures area at Madrid's Barajas airport on April 19. (Sergio Perez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Passengers wait for a train to depart to Rome at Milano Centrale train station on April 19 in Milan, Italy. Passengers are looking for alternative routes to return home after days of disruption in air travel as volcanic ash continues to fill the atmosphere over Europe. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Ash covers an evacuated farm as smoke and ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano block daylight on April 19, near Porvaldseyri. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A couple sleeps at Gatwick airport in southern England on April 19. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A stranded passenger waits with her luggage at Termini train station in Rome on April 19. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A man crosses an empty departures hall at Gatwick airport in southern England on April 19. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano continues to erupt in this image released on Sunday, April 18. The eruption has caused havoc with air travel across Europe and forced hundreds of locals to evacuate their homes. (Ragnar Th Sigurdsson / www.arctic-images.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A National Geographic film crew sets up on southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier after landing close to the volcano on April 18. Scientists say that because the volcano is situated below the glacial ice cap, magma is being cooled quickly, causing explosions and plumes of grit. (Reynir Petursson / Helicopter.is / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Farmer Bjarni Thorvaldsson pulls volcanic ash off a barn roof on April 18. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Volcanic ash mixes with water, sliding down a barn roof near Eyjafjallajokull on April 18. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A passenger waits at Bilbao airport in northern Spain on April 18, after all flights were canceled due to the ash. (Alvaro Barrientos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Synchronized ice skating coaches Danka Durasevic, right, and sisters Sara and Sandra Perl, all from Croatia, look for a cab that will fit all their luggage in New York on April 18. They were among the thousands of visitors stranded in the U.S. due to the ash. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A cloud of ash looms over a farm on April 17. (Ingolfur Juliusson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Dairy farmer Berglind Hilmarsdottir of Nupur, Iceland, looks for cattle lost in ash clouds on April 17. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Ranchers corral cattle in Nupur as volcanic ash swirls around them on April 17. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Volcanic ash is seen over Iceland´s main ring road near Skogar, east of the eruption on April 17. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A plane flies past smoke from the volcano on April 17. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A traveler watches a giant board announcing canceled flights at the Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris on April 17. Three airports in Paris and 23 others across the country were closed because of the cloud of ash. (Thomas Coex / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Two flight controllers in Belgrade, Serbia, chat after the closing of airspace over Serbia April 17. (Alexa Stankovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Travelers rest at the deserted Austrian Airlines terminal at the Vienna airport after all flights were grounded on April 17. (Leonhard Foeger / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Train passengers crowd the Milan railway station in Italy on April 17. Europeans are turning to different modes of transportation with so many flights grounded. (Luca Bruno / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Cars line up at a departure point at the car ferry terminal in Calais, France, on April 17. Ferry operators in Britain received a flurry of bookings from people desperate to cross the English Channel to France, while London taxi company Addison Lee said it had received requests for journeys to cities as far away as Paris, Milan, Amsterdam and Zurich. (Michel Spingler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A reddish sky at sunrise hangs over Budapest, Hungary, on April 17 as ash spewed by Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano reaches across Europe. (Gyula Czimbal / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Horses graze as a cloud of volcanic matter rises from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano, on Friday, April 16, in Fimmvorduhals, Iceland. (Nordicphotos / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Passengers rest on cots as they wait for the resumption of air travel on April 16 at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. (Torsten Silz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Passengers wait in a terminal in Frankfurt on April 16. (Michael Probst / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Passengers wait for transportation to Gatwick Airport after arriving in Glasgow, Scotland on April 16. (Jeff J. Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Ground staff place a protective cover on the engines of an aircraft at Belfast City Airport in Northern Ireland on April 16. (Peter Muhly / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. A ground stewardess of Air France/KLM distributes croissants to would-be travellers at Vienna's Schwechat airport on April 16. (Hans Klaus Techt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Check-in counters are closed at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, on April 16. (Oliver Berg / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. A plume of volcanic ash from Iceland, top left, streams eastward on April 15. (NEODAAS, University of Dundee via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Volcanic scientists leave the area after collecting samples of ash in eastern Iceland on April 15. (Omar Oskarsson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Passengers wait at the departures area at Madrid Airport in Spain on April 15. (Andrea Comas / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Smoke and steam hang over the volcano in Iceland early April 15. Ash from the eruption is drifting into other countries in northern Europe and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights. (Brynjar Gauti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. A sign at England's Luton Airport warns passengers of flight delays and cancellations on April 15, after Britain's Civil Aviation Authority grounded all non-emergency flights. (Matt Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. A farmer took this picture of the Eyjafjöll volcano shortly after its most recent eruption on April 14.
    View two versions of this image in PhotoBlog and discuss which you prefer. (Olafur Eggertsson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. Glacier melt from the erupton flooded areas along this river on April 14. (Icelandic Coast Guard via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. A plume of ash and steam rises in Iceland on April 14. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Rescue teams evacuate residents from rapidly rising waters near the volcano on April 14. (Halldor Kolbeins / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. A plume of steam from the volcano rises 22,000 feet on April 14. (Icelandic Coast Guard via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. The eruption melted ice on the glacier around the volcano, flooding local areas on April 14. Hundreds of residents were evacuated. (Icelandic Coastguard via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Rivers of lava flow from a volcanic eruption between the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers on March 24. (Helen Maria Bjornsd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. A helicopter flies in front of lava shooting from a volcanic eruption between the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers on March 24. (Helen Maria Bjornsd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Tourists gather to watch lava spurting from the site of a volcanic eruption at the Fimmvorduhals volcano near the Eyjafjallajokull glacier on March 27. (Halldor Kolbeins / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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