Published: Apr 21, 2010 10:37 AM EDT

      BERLIN (AP) - Airlines have lost at least $1.7 billion due to
travel disruptions caused by the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland,
an industry group said Wednesday as hundreds of planes finally
landed or took off from airports around Europe.
      The head of the International Air Transport Association called
the situation "devastating" and urged European governments to
examine ways to compensate airlines for lost revenues, as the U.S.
government did following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
      Airlines lost revenues of $400 million each day during the first
three days of grounding, IATA chief executive Giovanni Bisignani
told a news conference in Berlin. At one stage, 29 percent of
global aviation and 1.2 million passengers a day were affected by
the airspace closure ordered by European governments, who feared
the risk that volcanic ash could pose to airplanes.
      "For an industry that lost $9.4 billion last year and was
forecast to lose a further $2.8 billion in 2010, this crisis is
devastating," Bisignani said. "Governments should help carriers
recover the cost of this disruption."
      He noted that "the scale of the crisis eclipsed 9/11, when U.S.
airspace was closed for three days."
      Flights resumed in many areas, but the situation was anything
but normal as airlines worked through an enormous backlog after
canceling over 95,000 flights in the last week.
      Air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said it expected at least
15,000 of the continent's 28,000 flights to go ahead Wednesday
across Europe, and possibly much more.
      But severe delays were still expected across Europe, as airlines
pressed to patch together normal flights with airplanes and crews
scattered all over the globe.
      Germany's air traffic controllers gradually reopened the
country's airspace - the busiest in Europe - after days of closures
and limited activity. All restrictions were lifted for Germany's
two main airports, Frankfurt and Munich, as well as several others.
      "It looks like the whole German airspace will be opened in the
next two hours and we are counting on it to remain so for the rest
of the day," Axel Raab, spokesman for the government agency
Deutsche Flugsicherung, told AP Television News.
      "We cannot say what it will look like in the next few days. If
the volcano becomes active again, new closures might happen. This
is a decision that was made based on meteorological data," he
said.
      Some restrictions remained Wednesday morning over parts of
Britain, Ireland and France, as well as over parts of central
Europe.
      But French transport minister Dominique Bussereau predicted air
traffic will be back to normal before the weekend, as aviation
authorities expanded the corridors where planes are allowed to fly.
      Bussereau estimated that all of Air France's long-distance
flights to and from France would fly Wednesday, and 60 to 70
percent of its mid-range flights. He told LCI television that
another 48 hours were needed "for a total return to normal, for
everything to be reopened" - if weather patterns allowed.
      A French weather service plane took samples of the air Tuesday
and found no volcanic ash problems, he said.
      Still, several flights in and out of Paris' Charles de Gaulle
and Orly airports were canceled or delayed.
      The airspace over the Baltic states - Lithuania, Estonia and
Latvia - and all the region's major airports opened up Wednesday.
Other areas further east in Europe - Austria, the Czech Republic,
Slovakia, Hungary and much of the Balkans - had opened up earlier.
      Air traffic in Spain continued to be unaffected, but some of
Sweden's airports were closed again late Tuesday.
      In Iceland, there was no sign that the eruption at the
Eyjafjallajokull (ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl) volcano was ending
soon, according to Pall Einarsson, a geophysicist at the Institute
of Earth Sciences in Reykjavik.
      "We cannot predict when it will end," he said Wednesday.
"(But) ash production is going down and is really insignificant at
the moment."
      Deutsche Lufthansa AG's chief executive on Wednesday welcomed
the government agency's decision to reopen the skies.
      The quantity of ash from Iceland's volcano in German airspace is
so low that there's "absolutely no danger," Wolfgang Mayrhuber
told broadcaster ARD. "We will restart our system as quickly as
possible."
      Lufthansa, Germany's biggest airline, planned to operate some
500 flights on Wednesday, comparing with 1,800 on a normal day.
      "Our prime concern is security," he added.
      On Tuesday, the company operated some 200 flights under visual
flight rules.
      Mayrhuber reiterated his criticism on how the flight disruption
was handled, shutting down wide swaths of Europe's air space based
on what he said were forecasts of questionable reliability.
      "From the beginning, we had the suspicion that the forecasting
model could not be all right," Mayrhuber said.
      Lufthansa is Europe's largest airline group by sales. It owns or
holds stakes in carriers including Swiss International Airlines,
Austrian Airlines and British Midland.