Cost of disruption from ash running at €500m per week
No end in sight as air shutdown takes huge economic toll
THE economy will haemorrhage up to €500m a week as ash from the erupting Icelandic volcano keeps Europe a no-fly zone.
All Irish airports are closed until at least lunchtime today, causing misery for passengers and forcing a rush on alternative travel arrangements.
If the devastating ash clouds fail to disperse before Friday, airlines will lose €49m in revenue, while the flight-dependent section of the export industry risks losing €400m.
Pharmaceuticals and microchips are among the exports likely to be worst hit.
The travel shutdown will cost the struggling tourism sector an estimated €20m a week, and is taking a heavy toll on other businesses.
Thousands of workers will fail to turn up at their desks this morning after being stranded while attempting to return from trips abroad.
Travel agents estimate that as many as 120,000 Irish people have been affected so far -- either having to cancel trips abroad or getting stranded while away from home -- and that number is set to more than double as the week continues.
But there will be no compensation fund for people whose trips have been scuppered, government officials confirmed.
The disruption is worse than the airspace shutdown after the 9/11 attacks and could eventually cost the travel industry more than €1bn.
As southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano continued spewing out vast clouds of ash, the main association of European airports and airlines called for a reassessment of restrictions as several major airlines ran successful test flights.
But without any change in the situation, the impact on overseas trade will only worsen as the week continues, with supermarkets expressing concern that exotic goods will run out.
As the crisis deepened last night, it emerged that:
- All Irish airports are closed until at least lunchtime today, as dry weather prevents the ash cloud from being cleared by wind or rain.
- The Government's emergency taskforce, which is meeting daily, warned restrictions were likely to continue until next weekend.
- Ryanair has cancelled flights to and from Ireland until Wednesday lunchtime and Aer Lingus cancelled almost all of its flights today.
- The country's two top airlines are now losing more than €7m in revenues every day.
- Ferry companies have been asked to examine their capacity for passengers as more people look to alternative travel arrangements.
- The Navy has been asked to be prepared to transfer children in need of transplant operations to the UK by sea if required.
- Sporting fixtures have been thrown into doubt and racehorses travelling from Britain for this week's Punchestown Festival are being moved by ferry.
The Government's taskforce on emergency planning met for the fourth time yesterday to discuss the ongoing crisis.
But Maurice Mullen, from the Department of Transport, said it was not looking at putting in place any sort of compensation fund for affected travellers.
He said that while "no doubt there is inconvenience", there were options for people as to how to get home and get access to money.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin ordered his officials to open a consular crisis centre for Irish citizens stranded abroad.
But Mr Martin said people running out of funds should ask a relative or friend to transfer money. And he stressed his department could provide information and reassurance but could not organise individual travel arrangements.
Those with genuine emergencies, such as a shortage of prescribed medicine, are being advised to contact the local Irish embassy, consulate or honorary consulate. Passengers in difficulty can contact the consular service on 00353 1 4082999.
"I am deeply conscious of the plight of the many thousands of Irish citizens who have found themselves unable to return home because of flight restrictions," he said. "At this stage, it would appear that the situation is unlikely to change in the immediate future."
Met Eireann forecast that southwesterly winds from the Atlantic would clear it away from Ireland by Friday and from the UK and continental Europe by the weekend.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) also signalled the likelihood of further travel chaos, with no sign of the ash cloud altering course for several days.
The IAA said there was a possibility transatlantic flights would resume sooner than those heading across Europe.
"If it is possible to open the airspace for transatlantic traffic before (next weekend), that is an option we will be looking at. All of the east-bound traffic would still seem to be affected."
The ash cloud continued to cause massive disruption over the weekend. Plans by President Mary McAleese to fly to Poland for the state funeral of President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed in the Smolensk air disaster, were abandoned. The Air Corps said the conditions made it impossible to travel to Krakow for the ceremony.