The Icelandic volcano (with the name that is hard to spell, much less pronounce)†causing disruption to air travel in Europe has brought the importance of air travel to the forefront. Thousands if not hundreds of thousands of travelers were stranded†trying to get home to or from Europe. Business and leisure travelers alike were grounded with no options for travel if they were leaving the continent.† Even U.S. President Obama was forced to miss the State funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski as a result of the ash.
Europe has the world’s most developed transportation infrastructure with high speed trains, excellent highway systems and airports, but when you are traveling to and from the continent you still have to cross water. That only happens by boat or air. The boat takes days and the air – a few hours!
The system of air travel not only employs millions across the world but it also supports the global economy by connecting businesses across the globe and by bringing tourists to many economies reliant on†tourism for†economic health.
Reuters News reports that ďthe International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that the crisis caused by a volcanic ash cloud above Europe cost airlines revenues of more than $1.7 billion by Tuesday.Ē
This is just the direct economic impact to the airlines, and in no way considers the impact to the business travelers who were stranded on one side of the pond or the other. What about the lost productivity? Even with today’s knowledge of human productivity values, there is probably no way to measure this cost; but, common sense says that †it has to be immense.
On a small scale,† and in terms that directly relate to my business, our Vice President of Business Development, Bill Minkoff, had planned to be in Prague this week at a meeting of business aviation companies. There is no way to tell how many opportunities to connect with aviation entrepreneurs in Eastern Europe we missed because of the disruption.†Bill had hoped to get valuable face time with our Eastern European counterparts, making connections for future opportunities. He had also planned†to stop for a meeting in Italy. The Italian meeting may be rescheduled for a few weeks from now when things settle down; but,†the Prague trip (and its opportunities) is just gone.
When I think about the value of airlines and the air mass transit system, I†believe that their greatest value is in their international travel options. Even with all of the problems of the airline system as a whole, international routes are the most effective and efficient in moving people, and they are the most difficult to replace with an alternate form of travel when things go wrong.
News sources commented that private jet travel soared during the shut down of airline travel since†private jet operators had the flexibility to fly out of airports that were not closed by the ash and to take advantage of small windows of weather opportunity that the airlines, with their inflexible systems, could not. The charter operators in some regions may have gotten a boost from this crisis; but, even with their increased activity, they could not†even begin to meet the needs of†the stranded travelers.
Richard Branson said in an interview on National Public Radio†that he feels confident that the European Union aerospace authorities will come up with solutions to mitigate the impact should this or other volcanoes create trouble in the future. The biggest key is identifying how†much ash can be in the air before safety of flight is compromised. Based on the losses of the past week and the possibility of a recurrence, I am†confident that†EASA will research this and come up with good data to avoid unnecessary grounding of flights. †
Here in the United States, we can always get in our cars and drive.† In some cases, we might not spend much more time driving than we would have if we had flown. On 9/11, when all flights were grounded, I was stuck in Pennsylvania just south of Pittsburgh. We were fortunate to be able to get a car and made it home in 12 hours. †The same principle applies†in Europe if you are staying on the continent.† The trip may take longer, but driving is still an option.
In todayís global economy, air travel is irreplaceable when it comes to moving people around the planet.
A†volcano eruption on an island nation in the middle of the North Atlantic would seem to be a geographically†isolated event.† In the past week,†we †have found out differently.† We†must take better care of improving the system of airline travel† we have created over the past 75 years if we want to prevent an economic crisis caused by another “isolated event.”