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Iceland Volcano Continues Disrupting Flights

April 19, 2010 By: Jena Tesse Fox

After five days of travel drama due to an erupting volcano in Iceland endangering a popular flight path in Europe, the frustration has reached a breaking point. A meeting of Transport Ministers from across Europe has been scheduled in Spain for today— but, perhaps somewhat ironically, many will have to attend via videoconference as they cannot get to Spain in person.

According to Giovanni Bisignani, CEO of the International Air Transport Association, "It took five days to organize a conference call with the ministers of transport and we are losing $200 million per day (and) 750,000 passengers are stranded all over. Does it make sense?"

The UK, which has been hit particularly hard by the plane groundings, has announced that it will be sending Royal Navy ships out to bring stranded Britons home. According to CNN, "the HMS Ark Royal and HMS Ocean were making their way back to British waters, while the defense ministry worked to pinpoint locations that most need help." Meanwhile, Manchester Airport's Twitter feed reports "UK airspace remains closed until 0100 on Tuesday 20th April."

According to The New York Times, Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based agency that coordinates air-traffic management across the region, said that only 8,000 or 9,000 of the continent’s 28,000 scheduled flights would operate on Monday. French, German and Dutch airspace remained closed, although several major airports in southern Europe—notably Rome, Athens and Madrid—were operating. Airports in the Czech Republic opened at noon local time, according to the Czech news agency, and news reports said that Slovakia was allowing flights over the eastern part of the country. Aviation authorities in Hungary announced they had reopened the country’s airspace for aircraft flying at 24,600 feet or higher.

An Emirates spokesperson said that 20 percent of Emirates' fleet—30 aircraft so far—remain on the ground due to the volcanic disruption. The disruption has cost the airline somewhere in the region of $50 million. Emirates continues to provide hotel accommodation in Dubai for thousands of passengers who were in transit when the disruption began. The airline is not accepting passengers for travel to any European destinations apart from Moscow, Athens, Larnaca, Malta and Istanbul until April 21.

Most of Asia’s largest carriers continued to cancel their flights into Europe, adding to the financial cost of the chaos—which one industry group estimated at $2 billion and climbing.

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