After five days in which nature brought the jet age to a halt, European officials agreed Monday to let air traffic resume on a limited basis, giving hope to millions of travellers around the world stranded by ash from a volcano in Iceland.
Three KLM passenger planes left Schiphol airport in Amsterdam on Monday evening during daylight under visual flight rules bound for New York, Dubai and Shanghai. An Associated Press photographer saw one jet taking off into a colorful sunset, which weather officials said was pinker than normal due to the ash.
European Union transport ministers reached a deal during a crisis videoconference to divide northern European skies into three areas; a "no-fly" zone immediately over the ash cloud; a caution zone "with some contamination" where planes can fly subject to engine checks for damage; and an open-skies zone.
Starting Tuesday morning, "we should see progressively more planes start to fly," said EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas.
The German airline Lufthansa said it would bring 50 planeloads of passengers home and Britain said it would reopen some of its airspace in the next 24 hours.
Britain's National Air Traffic Service said Scotland's airports and airspace would reopen at 2 a.m. EDT today, and London's airports - including Heathrow, Europe's busiest - might be able to reopen later in the day. British Airways said it hoped to start flying from London at 7 p.m. local time.
Fears that air travel in Eastern Canada could be affected were also dwindling Monday after the Canadian Meteorological Centre in Montreal said indications suggested no significant ash in the atmosphere east of Newfoundland.
Although there were no flight restrictions in Canadian airspace, some domestic airlines cancelled flights out of St. John's Sunday after British meteorologists suggested that ash could be heading towards Atlantic Canada.