Home' Asian Aviation : AAV May 2010 Contents Andrzej Jeziorski
Talk about kicking an industry when it's down ... e timing
of the eruption of an Icelandic volcano that spewed a massive
cloud of ash into the air and caused an unprecedented halt
to ights over much of Europe in April could not have been
e global airline industry had already lost US$9.4 billion
last year and was forecast to lose another US$2.8 billion in
2010. Now, the International Air Transport Association
(IATA) says the ash cloud cost airlines more than US$1.7
billion in lost revenue in the rst six days a er the eruption.
For the three days between the 17 and 19 April, when
disruptions were at their peak, revenue losses hit US$400
million per day (see related stories, pages 6 and 16).
"At worst, the crisis impacted 29 percent of global aviation
and a ected 1.2 million passengers a day," said IATA Director
General Giovanni Bisignani. " e scale of the crisis eclipsed
9/11 when US airspace was closed for three days."
Indeed, one has to wonder whether there could ever be a
more trying decade for any industry than the past ten years
has been for aviation.
Elsewhere in this issue (see feature, page 38), Canadian
simulator maker CAE summarises its reasons to be
cheerful about the future, but warns that forecasts of long-
term growth in air travel demand could be thrown o by
"major disruptions like regional political instability, acts of
terrorism, pandemics, a sharp and sustained increase in fuel
costs, major prolonged economic recessions or other major
world events". Sure enough, the past decade has seen every
one of those dangers realized, and now we can add "acts of
God" to round the list o .
Of course, European carriers were the worst hit by the
disruptions, but Asia-Paci c long-haul airlines did not
escape unscathed. Carriers such as Cathay Paci c, Singapore
Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Qantas found themselves
having to lay on extra capacity once Europe's airspace
reopened, to clear a backlog of thousands of passengers who
had been stranded by the cloud.
Although some carriers protested that the airspace closures
were overcautious, it seems clear that they were indeed
necessary -- as evidenced by the fact that, for instance, the
Finnish air force reported that some of its Boeing F-18s had
su ered serious engine damage from ingesting ash within
a day of the initial eruption of the volcano Eyja allajokull.
en, a er Europe opened its airspace up again on 20 April,
several aircra coming into London's Heathrow Airport
reported the smell of sulphur in their cabins.
Now that European aviation authorities have established
an acceptable level of atmospheric ash for airline operations
to continue, this gives the airline industry more leeway to
operate in areas that have low-level ash contamination. Up to
now, the general policy has been one of complete avoidance
-- and this has worked in the past because volcanic eruptions
usually take place away from crowded airspace.
But analysts point out that the contamination level now
established, although signifying a low-level risk, does not
mean that ying is completely risk-free. Operators themselves
will have to assess the bene t of continuing to y against the
possibility of engine damage that could reduce fuel e ciency
-- incurring higher long-term operating costs or the one-o
cost of replacing the engine.
Beyond such technical concerns, IATA's Bisignani made a
series of requests for regulatory relief for airlines a ected by
similar situations in future.
First, the IATA chief urged that rules on take-o and landing
slot allocation (meaning, use it or lose it) should be relaxed
to re ect the extraordinary circumstances. Secondly, that
governments should relax bans on night ights so carriers
can take every opportunity to get stranded passengers to
their destinations as soon as possible.
Finally, he urged that governments should address current
passenger-care rules, which oblige airlines to pay for
passengers' hotels, meals and telephone calls during the
time they are stranded.
" e regulations were never meant for such extraordinary
situations," Bisignani says. "It is urgent that the European
Commission nds a way to ease this unfair burden."
Towards the end of April, when the European Commission
announced a comprehensive programme to provide relief
to the air transport sector a er the airspace closures, IATA
"These urgent measures will provide much-needed
assistance to airlines at a time when their nancial resources
are stretched," Bisignani said.
However, he continued, there are still more long-term
steps that could be taken. e crisis "clearly showed the
need for a Single European Sky", he argued, saying there
remains a need to accelerate plans for the implementation
of functional airspace blocks and a performance framework
to ensure the system is delivering the e ciencies that it
e IATA Chief Executive also said a better framework is
needed to decide on safe operations at times of volcanic
activity and noted that the airline group was already
working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation
(ICAO) "to apply the lessons learned from this event to
improve global standards and best practices". ●
Ash cloud rubs salt
into airlines' wounds
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