Germany Criticized Over Massive Flight Restrictions

There is a growing conflict in Germany involving the country's two major airlines and the transportation minister over flight restrictions due to the volcanic ash cloud. The airlines claim the government is being overly cautious and relying on computer models rather than facts. But the minister insists his job is to defend public safety, not commercial profit.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In Europe, airports are finally opening up after the shutdowns because of the ash from an Icelandic volcano, but airlines still face a backlog of passengers, of course. And in Germany, airlines are still battling with their government. The airlines are accusing regulators of being overly cautious in their decision to keep airports shut.

From Berlin, Thomas Marzahl reports.

(Soundbite of TV talk show broadcast)

Unidentified Man: (German spoken)

THOMAS MARZAHL: German TV talk shows are usually fairly civil, but earlier this week, tempers frayed on live television. The country's transport minister, Peter Ramsauer, interrupted the spokesman for Lufthansa, Germany's biggest airline. I don't normally speak on TV with your ilk, he said. I usually talk to the company CEO.

For days, German airlines have been publicly arguing with the government over the massive flight restrictions which they say are unnecessary and costly.

Wolfgang Mayrhuber is Lufthansa's CEO. He took issue with Germany deciding to ground flights based upon information provided by British scientists.

Mr. WOLFGANG MAYRHUBER (CEO, Lufthansa Airlines): (German spoken)

MARZAHL: A British institute extrapolates volcanic data to tell us what's happening in the skies above Hamburg or Berlin, he said. You just can't take that seriously. One magazine headlined a profile of Ramsauer: "Minister on Dissent." But he insists his job is protecting the public, not commercial profit. He is likely to receive a further grilling when he testifies in parliament today.

Scientists are meanwhile working with real data on the ash cloud. But they say the information they have so far is inconclusive.

For NPR News, I'm Thomas Marzahl, in Berlin.

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