Impact of European air shutdown will be 'vast'

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The Independent Online

The impact of the volcanic ash-induced shutdown of northern European aviation will be "vast", will take months to fully assess and will be far higher than figures suggested now, air analysts said today.

The ash cloud crisis could also result in "claim lawyers' heaven", according to aviation market intelligence services organisation the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA).

The week-long disruption to aviation will also have a "measurable negative effect on world trade" while there will be considerable financial damage to airlines, CAPA added.

The organisation also questioned whether the risk assessment form the volcanic ash clouds had been rigorous enough, adding that neither scientists nor politicians had "come out of this very well".

Those left stranded and those who had had businesses disrupted could be excused for saying that air traffic control company Nats should "long ago" have had a better understanding of the effects of ash clouds.

CAPA also said it was "incongruous" that the responsibility in the UK for deciding whether or not aircraft can fly seemed to be split between Nats, the Met Office and the Civil Aviation Authority.

"It will take months to see the full impact of this week's airspace shutdown. It will be vast, many billions of dollars - far greater than the immediate economic impact figures doing the rounds at present," CAPA said.

"Nearly one third - by value - of all world trade in goods moves by air. Closing Europe's airspace has the effect of shutting down nearly a third of that operation."

CAPA went on: "Where there's a loss, a claim lawyers' heaven looms. Already national governments are lining up to challenge the EU to find the money to compensate their airlines, and others.

"Basically a lot of actions have been taken with probably only scant attention paid to the ultimate legal outcomes. This all makes for a lawyers' heaven."

CAPA said the whole global economy was "built around fast movement of high-value products, from fresh produce, through computer products, car parts, urgent medical supplies and even gold.

It added: "Then there is the world's largest 'industry' - tourism. This week's disruption consequently is so significant that it will have a measurable negative effect on the terms of world trade."

CAPA said airlines faced "serious damage" from the disruption, adding that British Airways "needed this like a hole in the head".

It added that the crisis had "begged the question as to how much research could, or should, have been done into the propensity for engine damage".

"If scientists aren't coming out of this very well, then neither are politicians and their governments. Most seemed virtually oblivious to the crisis for three days, keeping their heads well down, when the blame game started."

CAPA said Nats had said how it had been working closely with the UK Government, airports and airlines, and airframe and aero engine manufacturers to get a better understanding of the effects of the ash cloud and to seek solutions.

"The hundreds of thousands of people left stranded, and businesses disrupted who each have their own tale of misery can be excused for saying: 'You should have understood it long ago'," CAPA added.

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