Budget airline easyJet said it had taken a hit of around £40 million so far after having to cancel 4,500 flights over the past five days.

Around 200,000 easyJet passengers have been affected by the blanket ban on flights since last Thursday, according to easyJet.

And every day that the volcanic ash cloud continues to ground planes costs easyJet another £5 million in lost profits, it said. The carrier has had to cancel 85% of its schedule throughout the ash cloud crisis.

Shares in the group were down as much as 5% today as investors counted the cost to the bottom line.

Luton-based easyJet sought to assure that it was in robust shape to weather the turmoil, with pre-tax results for the six months to the end of March expected to be at the top end of its guidance.

It is expecting half-year losses of £80 million to £95 million, narrowed from £129 million a year earlier - a period when it traditionally slips into the red.

But easyJet has already had to battle against severe weather disruption in December and January, which wiped another £25 million off profits.

The group has been able to drive up revenues per seat to offset this, while it has also benefited from the recent strike action at rival British Airways.

It saw a 14% leap in passenger numbers last month as it picked up business from BA.

EasyJet added today: "With a third of the seats for the second half of the year now booked, trading prior to the recent volcanic disruption has continued to be robust."

Airline analysts at UBS calculate the entire cost to the industry at up to 140 million euros (£123 million) a day, with no insurance cover available to protect against this type of event.

EasyJet confirmed it was "actively working with Government" in a bid to secure some financial support. Most European airlines are lobbying the European Unions and governments for compensation.

An easyJet spokesman said: "This is a natural disaster and it's the Government's responsibility to look after its citizens - that hasn't happened."

"At the moment the cost lies completely with the airlines - we're paying for all of it - and we think this cannot just be the airlines' responsibility."