The International Air Transport Association has criticised European governments over their handling of the ash cloud which is costing the airline industry $200 million a day.

Director general and chief executive Giovanni Bisignani said five days is too long to wait before governments held a conference to discuss the emergency after the eruption of a volanco last Thursday saw a cloud of ash cover mush of northern Europe.

He said: “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.”

Bisignani also criticised Europe’s unique methodology of closing airspace based on theoretical modeling of the ash cloud, adding: “This means that governments have not taken their responsibility to make clear decisions based on facts.

“Instead, it has been the air navigation service providers who announced that they would not provide service. And these decisions have been taken without adequately consulting the airlines. This is not an acceptable system particularly when the consequences for safety and the economy are so large.

“Safety is our top priority. Airlines will not fly if it is not safe. I have consulted our member airlines that normally operate in the affected airspace. They report missed opportunities to fly safely.

“The European system results in blanket closures of airspace. I challenge governments to agree on ways to flexibly re-open airspace. Risk assessments should be able to help us re-open certain corridors, if not entire airspaces.”

To assist governments in assessing risk, airlines have conducted successful test flights in several European countries. The results have not shown any irregularities or safety issues. Airlines are also exploring various operational measures to maintain safe operations.

These include day flights, restrictions to specific flight corridors, special climb and descent procedures, and more frequent detailed boroscopic engine inspections to detect damage.

Bisignani said the scale of airspace closures currently seen in Europe is unprecedented, adding: “We have seen volcanic activity in many parts of the world but rarely has it resulted in airspace closures – and never at this scale.

“When Mount St. Helens erupted in the US in 1980, we did not see large scale disruptions, because the decisions to open or close airspace were risk managed with no compromise on safety.”