(Check below for updates throughout the day.)

By Mark Memmott

Day five of the mess in the skies over Europe begins with the International Air Transport Association accusing European governments of a "lack of leadership in handling airspace restrictions in light of the Icelandic volcano eruption."

The organization, which represents 230 airlines, continues in its blistering statement with this from IATA Director General/CEO Giovanni Bisignani"

"We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction on how governments have managed it -- with no risk assessment, no consultation, no coordination, and no leadership. This crisis is costing airlines at least $200 million a day in lost revenues and the European economy is suffering billions of dollars in lost business. In the face of such dire economic consequences, it is incredible that Europe's transport ministers have taken five days to organize a teleconference.
"Governments must place greater urgency and focus on how and when we can safely re-open Europe's skies. This means decisions based on risk-management, facts and utilizing operational procedures that maintain safety."

Concern about the safety of flying into parts of northern Europe has grounded much of the air traffic there, and has sent ripple effects around the world as flight cancellations have stranded passengers. It also prevented many world leaders, including President Barack Obama, from attending yesterday's state funeral in Krakow, Poland, for Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife.

But, as ash from the eruption in Iceland continues to spread east -- posing a potential danger to aircraft because it can damage engines and equipment -- "authorities in Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands - home to four of Europe's five largest airports - said their air space was still closed," the Associated Press writes.

As NPR's Richard Harris reported on Morning Edition, "forecasters can see the volcanic ash cloud on satellite images, and they can forecast which way it's going. But they can't tell exactly how much ash is in the air -- or at what point it poses a hazard to airplanes. That's complicating efforts to decide how much of Europe's airspace can be reopened to travel":

Yesterday, some airlines sent test flights into the skies over Europe (no passengers were aboard) and said their aircraft experienced no problems, as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris:

The BBC and The Guardian are both running live-blogs with updates about the situation.

Britain's Royal Navy is sending warships to Europe, where they will pick up Britons who have been stranded on the continent by the grounding of flights, as The Times of London reports.

Meanwhile, also on Morning Edition, NPR's Joe Palca went along with volcanologists as they sampled some of the material that's spewing from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull. The air immediately downwind from the eruption isn't good, as this photo of Icelandic dairy farmer Berglind Hilmarsdottir shows. He was out looking for lost cattle this weekend:

Wearing a mask and glasses against the smoke, dairy farmer Berglind Hilmarsdottir from Nupur, Iceland,  looks for cattle lost in ash clouds, Saturday, April 17, 2010.  The volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier continued to send ash into the air Sunday. The Icelandic volcano that has kept much of Europe land-bound is far from finished spitting out its grit, and offered up new mini-eruptions Saturday that raise concerns about longer-term damage to world air travel and trade. (AP Photo/Brynjar Gauti)

Near the volcano. (Brynjar Gauti./AP)

Update at 2:45 p.m. ET: European officials are putting together a plan for opening more more airspace.

Update at 10:25 a.m. ET. Lufthansa Gets OK To Fly. The Associated Press writes from Berlin that:

Germany's aviation authority says it has granted Lufthansa permission to fly 50 long-haul planes back home with about 15,000 passengers. Lufthansa spokesman Jan Baerwald said the planes, scattered around the world, would start getting ready "right now." The first flights will be from the Far East, with others following from Africa and North America, he said.
The planes will fly to Frankfurt, Munich and Duesseldorf, he said, adding that "we have an exception that allows us to fly so-called visual flight rules." Baerwald noted that air traffic control is still keeping its restrictions on German airspace.

Update at 9:40 a.m. ET: There may be some hopeful signs -- more steam and less ash at the volcano may lead to clearer skies.

categories: Accidents and Disasters, Foreign News, Travel

7:25 - April 19, 2010