The first flights in northern Europe have taken off after five days of inactivity caused by the spread of volcanic ash from Iceland. Three flights departed from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport late on Monday, bound for New York, Shanghai and Dubai. There are hopes that many routes within Europe will be able to resume operations on Tuesday. But UK air traffic officials said a new ash cloud spreading from Iceland cast doubt on plans to reopen UK airspace. Earlier, the UK air traffic control body, Nats, said the flight ban would be lifted over Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England. But it later said there was now a worsening situation in some areas. The outlook for Northern Ireland is most uncertain. "This demonstrates the dynamic and rapidly changing conditions in which we are working," said a statement from Nats. British Airways says it is "reviewing" its plan to resume flights from London airports from 1800 GMT, in the light of the latest reports.
EU transport ministers proposed creating a core no-fly area, a limited-service zone and an open-skies area. Dutch Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings said his country "taking a lead" in restarting flights, but warned that further suspensions might prove necessary if the situation worsens. Swiss and northern Italian airspace will reopen from 0600 GMT, and France is opening some air corridors to Paris. But the skies over Germany are due to remain closed until 1200 GMT, with some exceptions. The BBC's Nik Gowing at Frankfurt airport says that judging by the tranquil early morning scenes in the normally busy terminals, very few people will be flying on Tuesday. The International Air Transport Association earlier labelled the chaos a mess and an embarrassment for Europe. The body says its losses have soared over $1bn (£650m; 740m euros), since much of Europe's airspace was closed last week because of ash from southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano.
The European Union has admitted there were shortcomings in the way the decision to close parts of Europe's airspace was reached. An official with the EU Transport Commission, Helen Kearns, said there was loose coordination in the decision-making process and that, working with the same scientific information, different countries had reached different conclusions. She said, however, that in the future when deciding whether planes should be grounded, there'd be no change in the policy of putting safety first.
Experts had earlier said the volcano - which erupted last Wednesday for the second time in a month - was now spewing more steam and less ash. A US official said on Monday a Nato F-16 fighter jet had suffered engine damage after flying through the volcanic ash cloud. In the high temperatures of an engine turbine, ash can turn to molten glass and cripple the engine. Meanwhile, the UK deployed three Royal Navy warships to help pick up stranded passengers from Spain and the Channel ports. In Spain, where all airports were open, the government offered to let Britain and other European countries use its airports as stopovers to get passengers moving again.
Airspace in Belgium and Denmark is also due to begin opening from Tuesday morning. But Finland shut its airports again until Tuesday afternoon. Airports have already reopened in Austria, Estonia, Hungary and Turkey. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said the bloc's economy would suffer badly if the disruption continued for a long time. "What makes me a little bit afraid is that there is no timer on this volcano," he told news agency Reuters. The shroud of fine mineral dust particles from the volcano has spread from the Arctic Circle in the north to the French Mediterranean coast in the south, and from Spain into Russia.