Airlines lose $250m daily to volcanic ash

2010-04-20
THE SUN Newspaper- Uche Usim

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, the volcanic ash which erupted from the Eyjafjallajokull Mountain in Iceland on April 15 and shot itself high into the skies of Europe is the second factor to disrupt flight operations across the globe.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is even predicting that the economic impact of the volcanic ash is likely to be more than that of the September 11, attacks.
Pilots and crew dread airspace that has volcanic ash as it can wreck the flight ability of propeller and jet aircraft.

According to aviation analysts and meteorologists, the ash is so fine that it will invade the spaces between rotating machinery and jam them.
Silica in ash melts at about 1,100 degrees and fuses to turbine blades and nozzle guide vanes (another part of the turbine assembly), which in modern aircraft operate at 1,400 degrees.
The Icelandic ash plume has been thrown into the atmosphere to between 6km and 11km, exactly the height that wide-bodied aircraft would be flying at.

In 1981, the crew of two aircraft, including a British Airways Boeing 747, discovered when they flew through an ash cloud from the Galunggung volcano in Indonesia that all four engines on both planes stopped.
They dived from 36,000ft to 12,000ft before they could restart the engines and make emergency landings.
More so, ash can pit the windscreens of the pilots cabin, damage the fuselage and light covers, and coat a plane so much that it becomes tail-heavy.

At runways, ash creates an extra problem as takeoffs and landings will throw it into the air again – where the engines can suck it in and it will cause major damage to moving parts.
Since the Iceland volcanic ash eruption started last week, an average of 16,000 flights were cancelled daily across Europe and the United Kingdom.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Monday that European governments’ response to the volcano crisis was inadequate and estimated its economic impact on airlines to be greater than the 2001 September 11 attacks.
Giovanni Bisignani, head of the IATA airline industry body, estimated airline revenue losses were now reaching $250 million a day, up from an earlier estimate of $200 million (131.2 million pounds) on Friday.
Bisignani called for urgent action to safely re-open airspace and called for a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the United Nations aviation body.

According to Eurocontrol, the European air navigation and safety organization that controls flights in 38 nations, says by the end of Sunday more than 63,000 flights will have been cancelled since April 15.
“Of around 24,000 flights that normally operate on a Sunday, only some 4,000 will fly, Eurocontrol said.”
The disruption is costing the global aviation industry about 130 million British Pounds (250 million dollars) on a daily basis.
Arik Air, the biggest domestic carrier that operates international routes has cancelled its flights to London Heathrow from Lagos and Abuja.
The airline says it cannot quantify the revenue loss since UK airports have remained shut.

The leading airplane in the Middle East, Emirates says the disruption has already cost it $50 million.
Emirates says it’s losing revenue from 18,000 passengers a day as airspace across the UK and much of Europe remains closed. Around 30 Emirates aircraft are grounded – equivalent to one fifth of the fleet.
To date, over 80,000 passengers have been impacted by the ongoing disruption.
Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airline said: “The scale of this crisis is unlike anything I have experienced in my career. The longer it continues, the more complex the recovery process becomes. Like every carrier operating to Europe, Emirates is facing huge losses – $10 million a day in our case.”

According to a source from KLM, it would take at least two weeks before most airlines can resume normal flight services.
In Nigeria, where most European carriers consider as their toast destination, the list of stranded passengers has continued to swell into tens of thousands.
More so, due to the prolonged closure of most airports in Europe, major hotels in Nigeria have become jam-packed with passengers who visit the airport regularly to know the status of the flights.
While the airlines are weeping over the ugly development, the hotels are smiling to the banks. The same scenario is reported in hotels across Europe.

As a result of the situation, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has urged Nigerians travelling to Europe to exercise patience with various European carriers as the volcanic ash has shut down major airports in Europe.
The Director General of the authority, Dr Harold Demuren who stated this in a telephone message on Saturday pointed out that the disruption in flight schedule is likely to last for over a week.
As a panacea, he advised Nigerian travellers to remain at home till the situation normalizes, stressing that transatlantic carriers across the globe are passing through challenging times.

“Intending passengers are advised to liaise with their airlines to confirm the status of their flights and any special arrangements that have been made for passengers whose flights have been disrupted. Hotels have been booked full. Departure halls are jam-packed with worried passengers. This is disrupting regional operations,” he stated.
He described the engines of wide-bodied airplanes as very complex and as such they can only operate optimally in environments free of debris and corrosive gases.

Dutch carrier KLM has thrown doubts on the risk to aircraft from European volcanic ash after finding no technical problems during a test flight conducted with a Boeing 737-800.
However, KLM on Saturday carried out test flights without any apparent damage.
Germany’s Lufthansa also flew 10 planes in separate tests.
The airline expects to receive final results today from an inspection of the aircraft.
KLM conducted the flight in Dutch airspace, from 19:45 to 21:00 on Sunday after securing Dutch Government permission.

“No problems were encountered during the flight,” says the airline. The 737 climbed to an altitude of 41,000ft during the test.”
As the closure of airports continue, the United Kingdom government has indicated its plans to bring back 200,000 Britons stranded by Iceland volcano’s ash cloud via the sea courtesy of the Navy’s ship.
More so, desperate travellers in Europe have engaged taxis to embark on very long journeys, pending when the skies will welcome normal flight operations.



 

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