LONDON The closure of northern European air space due to a volcanic dust cloud is starting to have an impact on business as well as causing distress to tens of thousands of travelers stranded abroad. Airlines were running test flights over the weekend and some claimed that the air traffic rule of "any ash, no fly" was too strict, according to BBC reports.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) was critical of European governments for their lack of leadership in handling airspace restrictions. "This crisis is costing airlines at least $200 million a day in lost revenues and the European economy is suffering billions of dollars in lost business," said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA's Director General and CEO, in a statement. "Governments must place greater urgency and focus on how and when we can safely re-open Europe's skies," he added.
Nonetheless European air space remains closed, apart from pockets of activity in Spain, Italy and Greece. Authorities cannot give guidance as to when the ban will be lifted. A change in wind direction could help to dissipate the cloud and blow the plume from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull towards a less densely populated region.
The volcano continues to erupt on a sporadic basis and is spewing ash up to 5 miles into the atmosphere. A consistent wind pattern round an anticyclone in the north Atlantic has continued to push an ash cloud to the south and east for a week covering the U.K., the Scandinavia, and most of continental Europe.
The expanding ash cloud is also being drawn back across the Atlantic and is expected to reach Newfoundland in Canada on Monday (April 19), according to reports.
The strict "no-fly" guidelines are in place as a result of experience gathered when airplanes have flown through atmospheric layers of volcanic ash in the past. It can choke and damage jet engines and even cause damage to the skin of the aircraft, according to reports. Because damage is likely to happen to all engines at once, removing any safety through redundancy, the guidance has been not to fly.
However, much of the evidence backing up flight ban decision is based on meteorological simulations of how the cloud is expected to behave. Many agencies are now expressing disatisfaction that there are not quantifiable limits similar to cleanliness standards for cleanrooms which could be used to assess when volcanic ash is sufficiently diffuse to allow air travel.
As the flight ban enters its second week pressure is building as business plans are disrupted and European airlines themselves face a business crisis. While many businesss will look to videoconferencing as a way to alleviate the effects of the flight ban, many high-value and short-shelf-life supply chains depend on air freight.
Volcanoes are highly unpredictable and the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull could end after days, or could last months or even continue for years. Vulcanologists have been examining the historical record and have pointed out that an eruption of Eyjafjallajokull is often followed by a re-awakening of its near, and much bigger, neighbor, Katla.
Related links and articles: