European companies divert Tokyo Flights South as Nuclear Risk Mounts

Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA) rerouted its Tokyo flights to the southern-Japanese cities of Nagoya and Osaka, citing the risk of nuclear fallout and aftershocks following last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

The German carrier’s services are also stopping in Seoul for a crew change to avoid having staff stay overnight in Japan, spokesman Michael Lamberty said in an interview. Air France-KLM (AF) Group is likewise routing flights via the South Korean capital and other European carriers are taking similar steps.

“We’re doing this to be prepared for all possible scenarios,” Lamberty said by phone from Lufthansa’s hub in Frankfurt. “The radioactive particles are the main concern.”

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant was today rocked by two further explosions and a fire as workers there struggled to avert the risk of a meltdown, heightening concern about radiation leaks after March 11’s earthquake and tsunami.

Austrian Airlines, a Lufthansa unit, said it would delay today’s flight from Vienna to Tokyo by eight hours to avoid winds that may cause radioactive contamination.

Air France is operating flights via Seoul while continuing to serve the Japanese capital, spokesman Cedric Leurquin said by phone. Prime Minister Francois Fillon told lawmakers in Paris that the carrier has been told to “respond without delay” to demands from French nationals who want to leave Japan.

Extra Crew

Austrian’s flights are also being routed via Seoul, and Alitalia SpA said it has added extra crew on routes to Japan so personnel don’t have to spend the night there. The Italian company introduced the policy on March 13, according to a spokesman who declined to be identified, citing company rules. Flights are otherwise operating normally, he said.

Lufthansa’s Swiss International Airlines unit scrapped a flight from Zurich to Tokyo on March 13 before resuming its daily service yesterday, spokeswoman Sonja Ptassek said. Flights are stopping in Hong Kong for a crew change, she said.

British Airways has put its Tokyo operations “under review” while sticking with its usual timetable, spokeswoman Cathy West said by telephone.

There are almost 24 hours until the next daily flight to Narita airport and the five times-a-week service to the capital’s Haneda terminal doesn’t depart until Thursday, giving the London-based company time to mull options, she said.

Head South

French Prime Minister Fillon said citizens who don’t need to stay in the country have been advised to fly home or head to the south of Japan.

Air France has switched planes on its two daily Paris-Tokyo flights to add 100 seats a day, spokesman Leurquin said. Clients can use a ticket on any flight and special one-way fares are on offer for people who aren’t sure when they’ll return, he said.

In the U.S., The Federal Aviation Administration is working with airlines to ensure that flights to Japan comply with airspace restrictions around the stricken nuclear plant. United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL), Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) and American Airlines said they haven’t made any schedule changes.

United Continental and Delta have the greatest exposure to Japan among U.S. carriers, Citigroup Inc. said in an investor note. In Europe, Finnair Oyj (FIA1S), Alitalia and Air France-KLM are most exposed, according to London-based analyst Andrew Light.

Finnair is “monitoring the situation closely” while continuing to operate services to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, spokeswoman Maria Mroue said from Helsinki.

Kan Appeal

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan appealed for calm as he said the danger of further radiation leaks was rising at the crippled Fukushima facility, 135 miles (220 kilometers) north of Tokyo. Sea water is being pumped to cool the reactors and prevent the uncontrolled release of radioactive material.

About 140,000 people within a radius of 20 to 30 kilometers were ordered to stay indoors, Kyodo News reported.

The March 11 earthquake -- updated yesterday to a magnitude of 9 from 8.9 by the U.S. Geological Survey -- and subsequent tsunami have led to what Kan called the country’s worst crisis since World War II. More than 2,000 people are confirmed dead and there have been 405 aftershocks.


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