The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southern Iceland
The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southern Iceland has erupted twice in less than a month, raising concerns that it could trigger a larger and more dangerous eruption at a volatile volcano nearby, writes Washington Post. The scope of the flight restrictions surpassed any seen since World War II.
In Europe, economists were assessing the longer-term impact of the historic flight disruptions, but winners and losers were emerging. Airlines and air-freight companies were the most affected, with the aviation industry facing losses estimated at $200 million a day. British Airways and other airlines said they are not insured against groundings by volcanic clouds.
Lufthansa has been making test flights with ten planes at different heights to find out the effects of the volcanic ash an particles on the turbines. The tests are implicating no damage. The airlines are trying to get back in air as soon as possible.
Rail lines were seeing booming business, however, with many adding trains and operating at standing-room-only capacity. Auto rental agencies in Paris were running out of cars, and some taxi companies were scoring enormous cross-national fares.
Given the global links of international air travel, the problems in Europe were beginning to spread chaos worldwide. As far away as Singapore, the backup of international passengers was so bad that hotels rooms were becoming hard to find in the city-state.
As airlines have cut costs, they have also reduced capacity over the past two years, meaning there will be few spare seats when flights resume. It will take a long time to get back to normal. This event is a remainder of the strength of natural forces. There is no perfect technology for all situations.
European aviation authorities said Saturday that commercial flights had been grounded across northern and central Europe, including Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, most of France and Germany, Hungary, Ireland, northern Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Britain. Only 5,000 of the region's 22,000 regularly scheduled commercial flights took off Saturday, with Sunday disruptions potentially worse.
Prevailing winds have left Iceland's one major airport, in Reykjavik, open for business. Industry officials said that U.S. carriers have had to shuffle their fleets to replace planes stranded in Europe but that there have been no knock-on cancellations of U.S. domestic flights.
The air-travel crisis caused by a spectacular volcanic cloud emanating from Iceland escalated sharply Saturday, with President Obama and other world leaders forced to cancel plans to attend the Polish president's funeral and millions of passengers from Washington to New Delhi left stranded by a bottleneck that could last for weeks.
One bright spot appeared in Iceland, where Foreign Ministry officials noted somewhat decreased activity early Saturday at the bellowing volcano. But they said that the eruption pattern had not seemed to change much since Eyjafjallajokull blew Wednesday and that the duration of the eruption was anybody's guess.
A breakdown in air cargo shipments into the largest cities in Europe, including London, Paris and Berlin, left supermarkets warning of looming shortages of fresh produce. The groundings meant fruit from Africa and South America were rotting in crates in their countries of origin.