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KLM, the Dutch subsidiary of Air France, said Sunday it wants to resume passenger flights in Europe as soon as possible after it flew a plane through the cloud of volcanic ash covering much of the continent without suffering any damage.
KLM carried out the test flight above Dutch airspace Saturday. It said initial inspections afterward showed no damage or irregularities from the ash in the air that has led to a ban on air travel over much of Europe since Friday.
The airline says it now plans to return seven airplanes without passengers to Amsterdam from Duesseldorf Sunday.
"We hope to receive permission as soon as possible after that to start up our operation and to transport our passengers to their destinations," said Chief Executive Peter Hartman, who was aboard Saturday's flight.
Germany's Lufthansa flew 10 empty planes to Frankfurt from Munich at low altitude on Saturday under so-called visual flight rules, in which pilots don't have to rely on their instruments.
But the KLM flight, a Boeing 737, flew up to 41,000 feet (13,000 meters), the maximum altitude at which the aircraft is certified to fly.
"We observed no irregularities either during the flight or during the initial inspection on the ground," Hartman said in a statement.
The flight ban has caused massive delays to people and goods, and has left thousands of passengers stranded across the globe.
Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf quoted Hartman as having said at a news conference late Saturday that the airline has been "begging" the European air navigation safety agency Eurocontrol to consider lifting the ban, but the agency has so far refused to discuss the matter.
KLM spokeswoman Saskia Kranendonk said she could not confirm those remarks, but said the company does wish to resume flying passengers in most parts of Europe as soon as possible.
The Dutch Transport Ministry Sunday said national airspace will remain closed to passenger traffic until at least 2 p.m. local time, but confirmed it is allowing further test flights.
"The goal of these test flights is to make measurements in Dutch airspace about the possible consequences of the ash on the airplane parts, the ministry said in a statement.
Southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull (ay-yah-FYAH'-plah-yer-kuh-duhl) volcano began erupting for the second time in a month on Wednesday, sending ash several miles (kilometers) into the air. Winds have pushed the plume south and east across Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and into the heart of Europe.
Scientists say volcano ash can be catastrophic to plane engines.
In 1989, a KLM Boeing 747 that flew through a volcanic ash cloud above Alaska temporarily lost all four motors. The motors restarted at a lower altitude and the plane eventually landed safely.
The volcanic eruption is ongoing and forecasters said light prevailing winds in Europe - and large amounts of unmelted glacial ice above the volcano - mean that the situation in the air is unlikely to change in the coming days.
This program aired on April 18, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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