A strengthened eruption from the Eyaffjalljokull volcano in Iceland which has created a new ash cloud could hamper efforts in Europe to reopen some airports and resume flights.
Despite noting the strengthened eruption, UK air navigation provider NATS issued a statement on April 19 noting that some airports in the UK were planned to open from April 20, although London’s Heathrow and Gatwick Airports remain closed.
“Latest information from the Met Office shows that the situation is worsening in some areas,” read the statement, which was issued on the night of April 19. “Based on this information, the situation for Northern Irish airports for the morning is uncertain, due to the new ash cloud. The latest information shows that Scottish airports should be available from 0700 (4pm AEST) and more airspace over England may become available from 1300 although not as far south as the main London airports.”
In anticipation of the reopening of the affected airspace, airlines have already started planning for major waves of flights to move disrupted passengers, including thousands stuck at hub airports such as Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok.
Qantas estimates that the current disruption is costing it $1.5 million per day and has cancelled all flights from Singapore and Bangkok to Frankfurt and London due to depart on April 20 and 21. Spokesman David Epstein said on April 19 that the airline currently has two Boeing 747-400s parked at Heathrow which could be prepared to fly with three hours’ notice once Heathrow is open again.
IATA has put the industry cost at over US$200m (A$217.5m) per day. IATA CEO and director general Giovanni Bisignani criticised the approach taken to close airspace based on theoretical modelling of the ash cloud. “This means that governments have not taken their responsibility to make clear decisions based on facts. Instead, it has been the air navigation service providers who announced that they would not provide service. And these decisions have been taken without adequately consulting the airlines. This is not an acceptable system, particularly when the consequences for safety and the economy are so large.”