Travel chaos has continued to grip Europe, despite the easing of its aerial lockdown as the Icelandic volcano eruption appeared to wane. The UK has reopened its airports, while some flights have left Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, but airspace in Germany and Ireland remains restricted. More than 95,000 flights were cancelled across Europe in the last week and it may take weeks to get passengers home. The disruption is having an increasing impact on business across the world. Scientists say southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano is producing more lava, and the ash plume was shrinking, although it remains changeable. There are concerns the eruption could set off the nearby, larger Katla volcano, which sits on the Myrdalsjokull glacier, but officials said no activity had been detected. Its last major eruption was in 1918.
The Eurocontrol air traffic agency said more than half of Europe's 27,500 daily flights were expected to have flown by the end of Tuesday. The Brussels-based organisation said it was optimistic the situation would be back to normal in a few days' time. Weary passengers cheered and clapped as flights began to take off from airports. "I've never been so happy in my life going back home," a Los Angeles-bound traveller told the AFP news agency in Paris. Britain reopened its airspace from 2100 GMT on Tuesday, allowing long-haul flights to land at Heathrow airport, Europe's busiest. A flight from Vancouver, Canada, was the first to arrive. The UK's aviation authority said some no-fly zones would remain where ash density was unsafe, but that these did not currently affect any airports.
British Airways said it expected about two dozen flights from the United States, Africa and Asia to land by Wednesday morning. There was more good news for passengers as Air France said it would resume all long-haul flights from Wednesday, although services in parts of northern Europe would stay suspended. The Republic of Ireland also reopened its airspace, while Norway has reopened all of its airspace until midnight. Elsewhere in Scandinavia, airports in north-central Sweden were operating, although Stockholm's main airport was being closed due to the ash cloud.
Finland's airspace remained shut while Denmark's was reopened until 0600 GMT. Several Danish airports, including Copenhagen, were expected to open for six hours on Wednesday morning. Germany, meanwhile, extended its flight ban to midnight, although 800 flights were allowed to fly visually at lower altitudes. Neighbouring Poland will reopen its airspace at 0500 GMT. Meanwhile, nearly 300 British holiday-makers marooned in Santander, northern Spain, have been picked up by a Royal Navy warship. The first five of a fleet of coaches promised by the UK government to help long queues of its nationals home were leaving Madrid on Tuesday evening. All airports in Spain are open and its government has suggested other countries use Madrid as a hub to get passengers moving. Swiss and northern Italian airspace has reopened, while Turkish airports have also been operating.
In an effort to take control, EU transport ministers have sought to reduce the size of the no-fly zone. Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas denied the EU had taken too long to respond, saying people's lives were at stake. The UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) meanwhile said it would lead moves to develop a global standard for the concentration of ash in the air beyond which it was dangerous to fly. ICAO Council president Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez said an international system monitoring the dangers caused by volcanic activity had been operating smoothly, but that the unprecedented disruption of recent days meant there was a need for a global network for routinely determining safety levels. The work would take place in co-operation with scientists, governments, the airline industry and aircraft manufacturers, he added. However, Mr Gonzalez stressed that it would remain up to governments to make the final decisions about safety.
The flight ban was imposed because in the high temperatures of an engine turbine, ash can turn to molten glass and cripple the engine. As waylaid travellers scrambled for other modes of transport, ferry and railway companies enjoyed an unexpected bonanza, while some car-hire firms were reportedly hiking charges. But many other businesses have been hammered by the chaos. The airline industry says it has been losing more than $200m a day (£130m; 150m euros), since the turmoil began last week. The carmaker BMW said it was suspending production at three of its plants in Germany, because of interruptions in the supply of parts. In Japan, Nissan also suspended production lines, while Honda announced a partial halt to production.
Blocked shipments of goods are reportedly stacking up in China, while South Korea is stuck with hundreds of thousands of mobile phones. And there are heaps of clothing bound for Europe piling up in Bangladesh. Meanwhile exporters of fresh flowers and vegetables in Zambia, Kenya and Uganda are having to throw away tonnes of rotting stock.