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Volcanic ash cloud crisis worse than 9/11 airspace shutdown

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-18

The volcanic ash cloud that has paralysed airports across Europe has had a more damaging impact on air travel than the airspace shutdown following the 9/11 attacks, reports the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

AFP - The impact to passengers and airlines of a travel shutdown across Europe caused by a volcanic ash cloud exceeds the airspace shutdown after the 9/11 attacks, the International Civil Aviation Organization said Saturday.

"Although there are no precise figures yet, we estimate that the impact exceeds that of 2001 in terms of canceled flights and the inconvenience at airports," ICAO spokesman Denis Chagnon told AFP.

"Financially, the impact of the current situation may be more severe than in 2001," he said, speaking from the UN agency's headquarters in Montreal.

More than 18,000 flights were canceled Friday in European airspace and nearly 17,000 flights were canned Saturday, said Eurocontrol, which coordinates air traffic control in 38 nations. It has described the situation as "unprecedented."

Although the disruption is mainly centered on Europe, transatlantic flights were also affected, with the Air Transport Association (ATA) saying that 282 of 337 scheduled flights by US carriers to and from Europe were cancelled Saturday.

Earlier Saturday, the International Air Transport Association also compared the ash cloud chaos to the events after the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington that saw US airspace closed for three days, forcing European airlines to suspend all transatlantic flights.

An estimated 6,000 flights carrying about one million passengers made emergency diverted landings while other departures were canceled during that period. Air traffic gradually resumed upon the adoption of new security measures on September 13; a day later, most US airport had resumed operations.

"It certainly rivals the massive shutdown that we saw after 9/11," noted Steve Lott, a spokesman for the IATA trade organization in Washington.

"Now we are on day three of this massive shutdown," said Lott of the travel chaos, adding that "we don't see the light at the end of the tunnel yet" as the vast ash cloud produced by an eruption under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southeast Iceland continued to blow across much of Europe.

The crisis has touched the diplomatic world as well. Several global leaders -- including US President Barack Obama, Germany's Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero -- cancelled their plans to fly to the Polish city of Krakow for Sunday's funeral of president Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria.

The couple died in a plane crash April 10 in Russia, along with 94 other top Polish officials.

IATA, which represents 230 airlines operating 93 percent of international trade traffic, estimates the shutdown's cost for the industry amounts to about 200 million dollars (147.3 million euros) each day.

"The airspace above Europe is an important airspace for in-route traffic, traffic crossing over Europe, going to other destinations whether it's the Middle East or Asia," said Lott. "Not only are the flights going in and out of Europe affected, it also affects the traffic crossing over Europe."

Noting that it took up to a week to get air traffic operations back to normal following the September 11 attacks, Lott also warned of the lingering effects of the ash cloud.

"We are listening to the scientists and meteorologists like everybody else, but we haven't heard any consensus as far as how this is going to play out. A lot depends on the volcano itself, the winds, the weather conditions," he said.

Date created : 2010-04-18


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