As noted in the posting about the new high-speed rail link (High-speed rail link is on track), transport issues in the UK are always newsworthy topics and here we go again. This time, though, we look to the sky, where air traffic was halted for five days, from April 14th to 19th. Whilst some flights took off on the morning of the 20th April, further volcanic clouds were expected to ground flights at 7pm. Then, with new scientific evidence suggesting that it would be safe to ease restrictions, flights resumed on 21st April.
A big problem during this period was the uncertainty about how long the disruption might last. And even with the easing of restrictions, there was no certainty that dangerous levels of ash might not return if there was a new bout of activity from the volcano and if winds were unfavourable. One thing that was certain is that it would cost the British and other European economies at a time when they can hardly afford it.
The airline industry is already expected to lose £1.4bn this year and the volcanic cloud is estimated to have cost airlines approximately £130 million per day in lost revenues. The tourism industry has also suffered, although the losses are significantly lower. Countries, such as Kenya, that rely heavily on air freight to transport goods have suffered and businesses have also lost out, owing to cancelled meetings, delays to mail and stranded staff. Customers were angry that they might face extra charges to rebook flights and were having to pay for further accommodation. Whilst the direct effects on economic growth were thought to be only minimal, the long-term effects are uncertain. A drop of between 1% and 2% for European GDP was being suggested.
Airlines have been asking for compensation, in particular BA. After a tumultuous time with strikes, such a disruption could not have come at a worse time. BA has estimated costs of between £15m and £20m per day, due to lost passenger and freight revenues, as well as the need to support passengers trapped abroad.
However, the news was not all bad, especially if you are a rail operator or own a shipping company, as other means of transport have seen a huge rise in demand. Many stranded passengers have railed against the ‘profiteering’ of rail, coach and car-hire companies as prices soared. A case of supply and demand?
Iceland volcano cloud: the economic impact BBC News (19/4/10)
BA seeks compensation for volcano losses Telegraph (19/4/10)
Tourists and economy trapped by the volcano eruption in Iceland Balkans Business News (19/4/10)
Iceland volcano: the impact of the ash cloud on Britain Guardian, James Meikle (18/4/10)
Volcano’s ash cloud causes sporting chaos BBC News (20/4/10)
Travel companies lose millions of pounds with UK tourism next to suffer Independent, Alistair Dawber (20/4/10)
Volcanic ash costing airline £130m a day Channel 4 News (19/4/10)
BA demands government compensation as airlines watch reserves go up in smoke Independent (20/4/10)
British Airway seeks compensation for air chaos (including video) BBC News (19/4/10)
How long will chaos last – and what has it cost? Independent (19/4/10)
Europe counting economic cost of volcano CNBC, Patrick Allen (18/4/10)
How could Europe volcano cloud crisis play out? Reuters, Peter Apps (19/4/10)
- Who are the main losers from the volcanic ash cloud? Think about businesses and individuals.
- How can other means of transport, such as rail, be seen as a complement and a substitute to air travel?
- How can the economic impact of such disruption be estimated? Can you apply a cost–benefit analysis to this situation?
- Airlines are losing revenue and hence profits. Try illustrating this on a diagram.
- Should the airlines be compensated? If so, how would you propose compensating them? Are there any problems with your proposal?
- If one airline is the sole provider of flights between two locations, does it have a natural monopoly? Explain your answer.
- What is the impact on UK exports and imports? How might the exchange rate be affected?
- Does anyone gain from the volcanic ash cloud? Explain your answer.