Belfast Telegraph

Beleaguered air industry assesses cost of volcano

By John Mulligan

The number of passengers flying on scheduled services operated by European airlines slumped 11.7% in April as flights were grounded due to volcanic ash fears, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Total global traffic dipped 2.4% as a result.

Releasing data yesterday, the IATA said that early indications show that there has been a |rebound for traffic during May, however.

Giovanni Bisignani, IATA's director general and chief executive, said: “The ash crisis knocked back the global recovery, impacting carriers in all regions.

“Last month, we were within 1% of pre-crisis traffic levels in 2008. In April, that was pushed back |to 7%.”

A raft of European carriers including Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Air France-KLM and British Airways experienced big drops in passenger numbers last month and are likely to shoulder tens of millions of euros in lost revenue as they refund the price of tickets to customers who weren't able to fly as airspace was shut down.

Scheduled air passenger traffic between the UK and Ireland slumped 38% to 565,296 in April, with much of the decrease attributable to the volcanic ash crisis. However, passenger numbers between the two jurisdictions have fallen for 18 months in a row.

“Europe's slow recovery from the global financial crisis and its currency crisis are already a huge burden on the profitability of its airlines,” added Mr Bisignani.

“The uncoordinated and excessive cancellations and unfairly onerous passenger care requirements rubbed salt into the European industry's wounds.”

Many airlines and representative organisations were angered |by what they claimed was poor |decision-making by national |aviation authorities based on |what they claimed to be inaccurate data from the UK's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre.

But agencies defended their actions, maintaining that safety was the paramount concern. The volcano in Iceland has recently been classified as dormant once again.

The ash crisis contributed to global load factors, or the percentage of available seats for sale on commercial aircraft that were sold, down to 76.9% in April from the 78% recorded in March. Freight load factors fell to 55.3% from the 57.1% recorded in March.

Northern Ireland’s airports were closed for six continuous days in April due to the ash cloud, while intermittent stoppages also caused disruption earlier this month.

Belfast Telegraph