Volcano's eruptions impacting Hong Kong air services, lives

Updated: 2010-04-21 07:39

By Guo Jiaxue(HK Edition)

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Thirty-three more flights between Hong Kong and Europe cancelled

Just as Europe announced a partial lifting of the Iceland eruption-precipitated flight ban, a fresh eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano Tuesday brought a billowing gloomy ash cloud and no-fly rules back. Although the source is a distant natural disaster, the worst-ever series of flight cancellations and delays is taking a growing toll on Hong Kong.

Forty-five more flights between Europe and Hong Kong were affected Tuesday, including 33 cancelled and 12 delayed, according to the Airport Authority.

Cathay Pacific cancelled all seven flights bound for London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam Tuesday. A total of 75 flights and 16,000 of its passengers have been affected since the eruption on April 14.

Virgin Atlantic also announced cancellation of a flight that was scheduled to fly to London on Tuesday night. The status of scheduled flights to London tonight is undetermined following latest information made available about UK air traffic.

Qantas cancelled the flight from London to Hong Kong today, as well as flights from Hong Kong to London in the days to follow.

"Currently, resuming flights is extremely difficult," said Ivan Chu, Director of Service Delivery at Cathay Pacific Airways, in a press conference Tuesday.

He explained that the situation turned worse again as some airspace in Europe reverted to no-fly status because of the second eruption of the Icelandic glacial volcano. "More flights are likely to be cancelled in coming days," he said.

The no-fly ruling has left a growing number of passengers desperate, and many out of cash and without accommodation.

The Hong Kong Immigration Department, by Tuesday noon, received 168 enquiries, mainly about flight information, and four requests for assistance. The SAR government has contacted local Chinese embassies in Europe to provide assistance.

"When services resume, all airlines around the world will be competing for landing slots at airports; airspace and airports are going to be horribly congested," Chu said.

"It will take weeks to clear the backlog, rather than days," he predicted.

To help clear the backlog, Cathay Pacific has suspended flight booking to Europe until May 10. Once the services resume, airplanes on critical routes will be upgraded to larger ones to provide more seats. Priority on these extra seats will be given to students returning to the UK to sit public examinations, and unaccompanied minors under the age of 12. The company also appealed to passengers on non-essential flights to postpone their travel.

Chu indicated the "ash attack" is having the most serious impact on the aviation industry in recent years.

He stated that no specific figures regarding financial loss of Cathay Pacific are available, but noted that flights to Europe account for over 10 percent of the overall capacity of Cathay Pacific and that the impact is significant.

Emirates has estimated its financial loss may reach $50 million. About 30 aircraft, which is 20 percent of its total fleet, have been grounded since the eruption. Over 250 flights have been cancelled and more than 80,000 passengers have been affected.

The International Air Transport Association Monday estimated airline losses at more than $200 million a day in lost revenues and indicated the aviation industry has suffered even greater economic loss than the three days of US airspace closure after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Cargo airline services have also been affected seriously. Hotels buying fresh flowers from Netherlands and restaurants importing seafood from Northern Europe may be out of stock in coming days, while some orders shift to non-European regions, such as New Zealand. Many shippers are leasing cargo aircraft, which has caused the leasing prices to have rapidly increased by as much as five times in several days.

China Daily

(HK Edition 04/21/2010 page1)