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Loss of revenues for Arab airlines estimated at $67 million a day
On top of staggering revenue losses following the closures of European airspace and airports, airlines in Arab countries have reportedly spent more than $1 million providing lodging and meals for stranded travelers.
April 19, 2010 11:11 by Katherine Azmeh
The chaos to air travel caused by the haze of volcanic ash that has covered much of Europe is costing carriers in Arab countries 50 million euros a day, according to airline industry analyst Ayad Al-Baitar.
“The losses will grow for airlines if the crisis continues,” he told Arab News on Sunday. “The tourist industry in the region will also be hit hard.” The estimated losses underscore the airline industry’s dependence on flights to and from Europe and the UK.
Saudi Arabia is currently in the midst of its Umrah season, which means many pilgrims coming from or through Europe have either had to delay their trips or have become stranded in Jeddah.
“I arrived a week ago to attend a family wedding in Jeddah and to perform Umrah,” said Sami Ahmad, a 28-year-old Londoner who is stranded in Jeddah. “I came here to the airport and I found that my flight has been canceled.”
Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport is one of several airports that have been affected by the Icelandic volcanic eruption. Europe-bound flights have also been suspended in major airports from the UAE to Morocco.
“Saudi Arabian Airlines suspended 28 services from Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam to various Western cities. However, flights to Rome, Moscow, Athens, Larnaca, and Istanbul are not affected by the present crisis,” Al-Baitar said.
Airports in Spain, Portugal and southern France were also open to receiving flights from unaffected countries.
More than 7,000 transit passengers have been stranded in Dubai and Abu Dhabi due to flight cancellations, Emirati airlines said Sunday. The Dubai-based Emirates airlines “is providing accommodation and three meals a day for more than 5,000 … transit passengers at a cost of more than one million dollars per day,” the airline said.
Emirates said it has so far lost $50 million. The carrier said in a statement it is losing revenue from 18,000 passengers a day.
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has canceled all flights to the UK and Ireland. Abdul Rahman Al-Qaud, deputy minister for civil aviation in Bahrain, said 12 Bahraini flights bound for Europe were suspended on Friday and Saturday.
Al-Baitar noted that airlines in Arab countries have reportedly spent over $1 million for lodging and meals for the stranded passengers. He estimated that 40,000 Emirates passengers had been affected so far. Mid-afternoon saw representatives from the UK Consulate arriving at the airport in Jeddah to assess what they could do for stranded UK citizens.
Meanwhile, European air traffic could return to about 50 percent of its normal levels Monday if weather forecasts confirm that skies over half the continent are clearing of volcanic ash that has thrown global travel into chaos, the European Union said Sunday.
Germany temporarily loosened some airspace restrictions before the EU announcement, allowing limited operations from Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, Erfurt and Leipzig and some from Frankfurt and Hahn airports, but was closing them again Sunday evening. Other countries enforced closures on their national airspace through late Sunday, Monday or even Tuesday.
The closures imposed after an Icelandic volcano begun erupting Wednesday have stranded millions of travelers.
France’s Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said there would be a meeting on Monday of European ministers affected by the crisis to coordinate efforts to reopen airspace.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines said that by midday Sunday it had flown four planes through what it described as a gap in the layer of microscopic dust over Holland and Germany. The ash began spewing from an Icelandic volcano Wednesday and has drifted across most of Europe, shutting down airports as far south and east as Bulgaria.
Air France, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines also sent up test flights, although most traveled below the altitudes where the ash has been heavily concentrated. Austrian Airlines spokesman Martin Heheman said it was flying an Airbus A320 to the southern city of Graz, where the plane will undergo a technical check to see what if any effects the volcanic cloud had. If none, three more test flights from Graz to Vienna are planned.