Iceland Volcano Ash Cloud Set Back Airline Industry Recovery

May 27, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

Passengers wait after flights were cancelled at the Schiphol Airport, outside Amsterdam on May 17, 2010.  (Toussaint Kluiters/AFP/Getty Images)
Passengers wait after flights were cancelled at the Schiphol Airport, outside Amsterdam on May 17, 2010. (Toussaint Kluiters/AFP/Getty Images)
European and international passenger traffic slumped by 2.4 percent in April as a result of massive flight cancellations across Europe due to the ash cloud from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

“The ash crisis knocked back the global recovery—impacting carriers in all regions,” Giovanni Bisignani, director of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said in a statement on Thursday.

“Europe’s slow recovery from the global financial crisis and its currency crisis are already a huge burden on the profitability of its airlines,” reported IATA.

Eyjafjallajökull started to spew in mid-April creating a giant ash cloud that drifted across European airspace leading to more than 100,000 flights cancellations and affecting over 10 million passengers. The aviation industry lost billions of euros during the disruption.

European carriers bore the worst of the volcano’s impact in April with passenger traffic dropping 11.7 percent, which “could not have come at a worse time,” said Bisignani in the IATA report.

By March, the airline industry had pulled within 1 percent of pre-economic crisis traffic levels. “In April, that was pushed back to 7 percent,” said Bisignani.

In May, a new ash plume again caused flights to be canceled and closed airports in the Europe air zone.

The impact of volcano went beyond Europe. North American carriers reported a 1.9 percent decline in April compared with 7.8 percent growth in March with the disruption of their transatlantic routes.

International cargo traffic was less affected by the ash cloud showing a slowdown in growth from 28.1 percent in March to 25.2 percent in April.

“The ash crisis was a shock. While there is always a danger of the consequences of renewed volcanic eruptions, the impact on passenger confidence should be limited,” Bisignani said.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office reports that volcano Eyjafjallajökull is no longer emitting any ash, but there remains a steam plume rising up to 10,000 feet.

Meanwhile, experts say that another eruption could come to life in the future from Iceland’s Katla volcano, a far more active one that erupts more frequently.

“An eruption in the short term is a strong possibility,” says a report from the University College London (UCL) institute for risk and disaster reduction.

“The time for Katla to erupt is coming close. It is high time to start planning for the eventual Katla eruption,” said Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson according to the UCL report.