In an address to parliament, Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer described the flight bans as the right response to the spreading volcanic ash. But opposition leaders have called his crisis management inadequate.
The volcanic ash cloud caused unprecedented problems
Following the lifting of flight bans in Germany, Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer told the national parliament in Berlin that handling an aviation crisis caused by volcanic ash had been an unprecedented experience. The conservative politician from Bavaria said there was little he could have done differently, given that the security of passengers had remained his top priority.
"I know I have many critics," Ramsauer told lawmakers in the plenary hall of the Reichstag building. "But I warn against using purely party-political reasoning in interpreting the decisions taken during the crisis."
Peter Ramsauer defended his handling of the crisis
The minister added it would have been gravely irresponsible not to impose the strictest possible flight bans in the face of a spreading plume of volcanic ash above much of Europe and the lack of reliable scientific data concerning the impact of ash particles on jet engines.
He was aware, he said, of the huge economic damage that airlines and other businesses had incurred, but insisted that, even with the benefit of hindsight, he could see no alternative to the measures taken.
Visual flight decision criticized
Opposition leaders expressed doubts about the minister's efficiency in handling the crisis. They could not understand why Mr. Ramsauer allowed some planes to take off as early as last Saturday with visual flight rules applied, that is even before scientists here launched a special flight to measure the composition and density of volcanic ash particles in German skies.
Opposition Social Democrat transportation spokesman Uwe Beckmeyer criticized the fact that the minister had set up a crisis team at the German Aviation Control Center at Langen, near Frankfurt, rather than calling the shots from Berlin.
"This would have enabled Mr. Ramsauer to take better care of some important aspects of the crisis," Beckmeyer said. "Instead, we saw airlines in financial trouble knocking on the door of the economics ministry while everything should have been dealt with from a single place."
Handling the aftermath
The Transport Minister announced that all German airlines must now report all cases of damage caused by ash particles to a special center at the Federal Aviation Office.
The Fuhlsbuettel airport in Hamburg braces for some louder nights
Also, inspection and maintenance routines should be carried out at shorter intervals in future.
Authorities in Germany's 16 federal state are now considering the lifting of flight bans during nighttime to help passengers still stranded abroad return home more quickly.
Christian Democrat legislator Dirk Fischer said he hoped people living near German airports would show some understanding for such an emergency measure.
"The city-state of Hamburg is leading the way," Fischer said. "Remarkably, its decision to let planes start and land also during nighttime is even backed by a senator from the Green party which wouldn't normally support anything like this."
Author: Hardy Graupner
Editor: Susan Houlton