Commercial planes will soon return to the skies over northern Europe, thanks to a decision by European Union transport ministers to partially end the ban that has gridlocked much of global aviation because of the risk of volcanic ash.
During a crisis video conference, the ministers agreed to create three zones for flying over Europe -- a no-fly zone over the ash cloud, a caution zone in nearby areas "with some contamination" and an open-skies zone.
Planes flying in the caution zone will need to be checked for engine damage, but the decision is expected to help carriers begin a return to normal operations.
"From tomorrow [Tuesday] morning on, we should see progressively more planes start to fly," EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement supporting the EU decision, calling it a "gradual, cautious return of operations" that will ensure safety.
Several airports in France and Germany announced today that they would reopen for some trans-Atlantic flights, and British officials said London's airports, including Healthrow, may reopen late Tuesday. Heathrow is Europe's busiest airport.
EU officials had been receiving increasing pressure from the aviation industry, which is losing an estimated $200 million in revenue per day due to the grounding. Thanks to the EU agreement, airlines have now lifted their flight bans.
Lufthansa in Germany will operate 50 flights from destinations abroad to Germany, the company said in a statement. Likewise, Air France announced it would operate 30 long-haul flights, including several to the United States, and British Airways planned to resume flights from London Tuesday evening.
Still, not everyone was pleased with the EU's delay in resuming flights.
"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," International Air Transport Association Director General Giovanni Bisignani said in a statement today. "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."
Eurocontrol, Europe's air traffic safety agency, defended its "prudent" reaction to the crisis in a statement that also announced a plan to establish a limited "no-fly" zone based on meteorological forecasts. Planes flying outside that zone would be allowed to operate as usual.
"We're confident once the green light is given to open up air space, that things will be back to normal," Frankfurt International Airport spokesman Robert Payne told ABC News. "It could take a few days for the airlines to re-establish their flight schedules back to the level they were before all of this happened."
On a typical Monday, 28,000 flights would crowd European skies, but fewer than 9,000 took place today, the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation said.
The new flights are part of a desperate effort to relieve airports around the world of thousands of stranded passengers. Earlier today Britain said it would send Royal Navy warships across the English Channel to rescue hundreds of passengers that have been trapped on the continent.