Ash cloud over Europe may cost airlines billions

A red, white and blue jet in a clear, blue sky.

An ash cloud over Europe from a volcano in Iceland is disrupting air travel and may cost airlines billions over the course of the eruption. Flickr photo.

An ash cloud over Europe spewing from a Volcano in Iceland is wreaking havoc on air travel as it spreads eastward toward Russia. For two days the volcano has been cloaking the continent, and scientists expect the eruption to last for weeks. Eurocontrol, the agency managing air traffic in Europe expects only 11,000 of about 28,000 flights that normally pass over Europe to happen Friday. Cancellations and delays will no doubt complicate debt management for the airline industry. ABC News reports that the ash cloud over Europe won’t cause problems for domestic flights in the U.S., although grounded planes in Europe are affecting U.S. flights because of  international fleet scheduling practices.

Ash cloud over Europe considered mild

The ash cloud over Europe is a result of the most recent eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano– pronounced “AYA-fyatla-jo-kutl,” in southern Iceland, which began erupting last month for the first time in nearly 200 years. Experts say the eruption and ash cloud from Iceland is mild compared to recent volcanic catastrophes such as the Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, which ejected more than 5 billion cubic meters of ash and debris up to 30 kilometers into the atmosphere. However, its effects on air travel, as well as climate could last for months.

Ash cloud from Iceland carried over winds

Air travel problems caused by the ash cloud over Europe are mainly a result of prevailing winds rather than the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano itself. Most of Europe’s major airports were closed. Millions of passengers have been stranded or delayed from North America to Asia. The New York Times reports that normal air-traffic conditions would not resume until Saturday at the earliest, raising questions about a wide range issues from the economy and business to family vacations and even to whether President Obama would be able to fly to the funeral of the Polish president and his wife, killed in an unrelated air crash last week.

Ash cloud from Iceland costing airlines

Thanks to the ash cloud over Europe, airlines may lose $1 billion according to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. That’s money now. But the economic mayhem could just be getting started. The last time the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, in 1821, ash clouds affected air quality and climate in Europe as it erupted sporadically until 1823. Although invisible from the ground, satellite photos show the plume drifting southwest over Europe and north into Russia. How far the ash clouds will spread before the dust settles depend on how long the volcano continues to erupt and which way the wind blows.

Ash clouds endanger airliners

Airlines have a zero-tolerance policy for ash clouds. The particles virtually sandblast the plane, foul engine turbines and frost windows. The last time ash clouds affected debt survival for airlines in the U.S. was early 2009, when Alaska’s Mt. Redoubt  erupted 19 times over several weeks, sending ash clouds  as high as 65,000 feet. Hundreds of flights were diverted from Anchorage.

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