Freezing weather strands 2,000 at Paris airport

French aviation authorities said they had cancelled half of the flights serving Paris Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport until 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) today because they were struggling to de-ice aircraft in the extreme conditions.

And Transport Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who visited the airport late Thursday, warned that the delays could, for some passengers, extend into Christmas Day.

"There have been 58 flights cancelled this afternoon at Roissy, essentially because of a problem de-icing" the aircraft, Kosciusko-Morizet said.

"Fifty-eight flights, that represents 6,000 to 7,000 passengers," of whom 2,000 were in the airport itself in the small hours of today morning, she added.

And according to their calculations, about half of the delayed passengers might not be able to get a flight out on Friday, Christmas Eve, she warned.

Forecasters were expecting below-freezing conditions Friday morning and the airport was having trouble getting hold of enough glycol, the liquid used to de-ice aircraft, aviation officials said in a statement late yesterday.

Civil aviation officials had therefore asked all airlines to reduce their flights by 50 per cent, the statement added.

Aeroports de Paris (ADP), the company running the capital's airports, had said earlier yesterday that the de-icing process had been taking 25 minutes instead of the usual 14, because of the extreme conditions.

Charles de Gaulle airport had only just cleared the backlog from the delays caused earlier in the week by the freezing conditions, which on Monday saw thousands of passengers forced to spend two nights running sleeping there.

Kosciusko-Morizet and junior transport minister Thierry Mariani visited the airport late yesterday to see the situation for themselves, their offices told AFP.

Of the passengers unable to travel, some local people returned home, others were put up on nearby hotels and two gym halls opened by local authorities, said an airport official.

Air France said it had provided 3,500 hotel rooms for its customers.

At the airport itself meanwhile, officials set up hundreds of camp beds for passengers with nowhere else to go.

"It's unacceptable!" protested one man, who had been due to fly to Casablanca, Morocco for his brother's wedding.

"Everyone's blaming each other, the company, the airport management," said his tearful wife.

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