Ash-triggered flight disruptions cost airlines $1.7 billion

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said today that the flight disruptions triggered by the recent eruption of a volcano in Iceland cost the global airline industry a total of $1.7 billion dollars.

For an industry that lost $9.4bn last year and was forecast to lose a further $2.8bn in 2010, this crisis is devastating

—Giovanni Bisignani, CEO of the IATA

According to the IATA, airlines lost a total of $400 million daily for the first three days of the week that European airspace was closed. The closures also impacted an estimated 1.2 million passengers around the world each day, until airspace around Europe began reopening last night. IATA's chief executive officer, Giovanni Bisignani, said that "[f]or an industry that lost $9.4bn last year and was forecast to lose a further $2.8bn in 2010, this crisis is devastating." He also claimed that the airline industry would require three years to recover from the effects of the crisis, and called on governments to provide some form of compensation to airlines.

Bisignani also criticized the response of European governments to the ash threat, saying that they had over-reacted and the shutdown of all airspace was excessive. He said that "Airspace was being closed based on theoretical models, not on facts. Test flights by our members showed that the models were wrong. [The crisis] is an extraordinary situation exaggerated by a poor decision-making process by national governments." Individual airlines also criticized the airspace closures. Micheal O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair, said that "It might have made sense to ground flights for a day or two...But by the time that that cloud has dispersed through 800 or 1,000 nautical miles of air space, a full ban should never have been imposed."

In defense of the European airspace controller, Eurocontrol, the CEO of the Irish Aviation Authority, Eamonn Brennan, said: "It's important to realize that we've never experienced in Europe something like this before. So it wasn't just a simple matter of saying: Yes, you could have operated on Saturday or Sunday or Monday. We needed the four days of test flights, the empirical data, to put this together and to understand the levels of ash that engines can absorb." Additionally, scientists in Switzerland said that studies of ash content in the atmosphere were high enough that the total closure of most European airspace was warranted.

Restrictions over air travel in Europe have been lifted in many parts of the continent today; three-quarters of the scheduled flights were operating, and most of the European airspace having been opened. Only parts of British, French and Irish airspace remain closed, and most of Europe's major airports are open, although not necessarily operating at full capacity; at London Heathrow Airport, about half the scheduled departing flights were canceled.

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