Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ash fallout for African airlines

African airlines lost 30 percent of their capacity and $2.6 million (R19.5m) in revenue during the six days last month when northern European airspace was closed because of the ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland, according to figures released yesterday by the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Apart from British and other European airlines, they were the hardest hit because of the importance of these markets to them.

According to Iata the route between the UK and South Africa is served only by SAA, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Iata said the grounding affected 3 840 passengers between the two countries. Many of these passengers flew the route later, when flights were resumed.

But some, who were within reach of their homes, cancelled their trips. A minority of those who were stranded in South Africa made their way back to Europe on flights to Spain or Portugal, where airports were still open.

Iata has doubled its earlier estimate that the closure of the airspace cost the global industry $200m to $400m a day "at its peak".

It says European airlines represented 70 percent of grounded passenger capacity "which is likely to be close to their share of lost revenues. Airlines from North America and from Asia Pacific equally shared another 20 percent of grounded capacity, with airlines from the Middle East next in size."

Apart from domestic routes in many northern European countries whose airspace was closed, the routes most severely affected were those between the UK and US, where an estimated $24.9m in revenue was lost and 37 018 passengers were affected.

"The revenue losses affecting the entire airline industry varied from day to day according to the extent of airspace closures," the report says. "We estimate that the cumulative losses over this period from scheduled passenger and cargo services were $1.7 billion."

The report says this is a conservative estimate based on verifiable data on scheduled services.

Cancelled flights on the last day of the closures have not been included because there were an equivalent proportion of additional flights - 30 percent more than normal - on the following day, put on to reduce the backlog.

"Airlines also face the cost of providing hotel accommodation and other assistance to stranded passengers," the report says.

"There is no data yet available on the industry-wide cost of this but the Association of European Airlines has estimated the cost at just under e200m (R1.9bn) over the whole period for its member airlines."

SAA provided accommodation for a limited period for passengers who could not return to their homes or to friends or relatives they had been visiting.

All domestic flights to and from OR Tambo International Airport yesterday morning were delayed because of foggy weather, sparking fears of a repetition of closed airspace, but the fog cleared by noon.