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Iceland volcanic ash is reminiscent of september eleven

Discussion in 'Biashara, Uchumi na Ujasiriamali' started by ByaseL, May 3, 2010.

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    ByaseL JF-Expert Member

    May 3, 2010
    Joined: Nov 22, 2007
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    One United Kingdom (U.K) newspaper aptly called it Ash Thursday. This was in reference to the volcanic eruption in Iceland (of all the places!) on Thursday 15th April 2010, churning out ash over much of Western Europe airspace and at one point threatening to spread towards the North American East Coast. Ash Thursday was in this case compared to Ash Wednesday which in Christian faith signifies the beginning of the atonement period or lent, spanning forty weekdays of fasting, prayer and self-denial which ends on Easter Sunday.

    Although Ash Thursday was not in any way the commencement of Christian atonement, it was nevertheless the start of six days of suffering and reckoning in the sense that it was one of its kind in the aviation history reminiscent of September Eleven. Dear reader, does the aftermath of 11th September 2001 terrorist attack in USA ring in your ears? This time around Ash Thursday was the beginning of closure of aerospace in many Western Europe countries with many airlines cancelling flights leaving swarms of stranded passengers and causing a lot of apprehension worldwide. It was feared that the volcanic ash when sucked by aircraft jet engines might cause damage and some particles from the ash could be harmful to the airframe hence the safety precaution to close many airports in Europe to civil air transportation save for emergency cases. The closure lasted for six days and the pain was instant and quite debilitating to say the least.

    Western Europe is one of the biggest aviation regions in the world in the same league with North America and Asia Pacific. To shut down Western Europe is akin to closing one third of the world aviation activity. There was immediate outcry from stranded air travelers around the world with many running short of cash and in hapless situation. Meetings taking place in Western Europe were either cancelled or went on without some participants and some dignitaries including President Barack Obama failed to travel to Warsaw to pay last respects to the late Polish President who earlier on had died in an ill-fated plane crash.

    Air Transportation being a perishable good, the financial losses suffered by the airlines was instant. International Air Transport Association (IATA) put the total industry loss of at a ball pack figure of $1.7 billion and called it devastating. Individually, British Airways said it loss about 20 million British pounds per day, while KLM-Air France Group put theirs at about $40 million a day and Emirates Airlines at approximately $10 million daily and others are still counting.

    The knock-on effect of this ash menace on Africa was equally bad with some African Airlines plying the European skies such as South African Airlines, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines just to name but a few suspending their flights as long as the embargo on civil flights into and out of Western Europe lasted. But the biggest victims were dealers in horticultural products. The Citizen Newspapers quoted some of Tanzanian dealers lamenting to the effect that their combined loss amounted to about 250,000 Euros (about Tshs 450 million) per day. “The situation is crazy and if it persists for five more days it would be hell for us,” said The Executive Secretary of Tanzania Horticultural Associations, Ms Jacqueline Mkindi.

    In Uganda two fish exporting firms suspended business in Entebbe and ordered more than 500 workers to halt their operations at the processing plants. “We were going to export 30 tonnes of fish worth some $500,000,” said Sachin Chavan, the Tampa Fisheries general Manager .“But all our produce has now been destroyed and this has caused huge losses.” The losses in Kenya was reported to be even bigger at $3 million daily than her neighbours because the horticultural industry is much bigger there.

    In the heat of the impending general elections in the U.K, Prime Minister Gordon Brown pressed the panic button and immediately sent a naval ship to Spain to pick up British soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and stranded tourists who were running out options. Because Madrid airport remained open during this ash crisis, it was turned into a “hub” where some airlines were able to drop and pick up passengers. In the event, Gordon Brown promised to send 100 bus coaches to Madrid to pick up U.K returning residents but when the coaches never made it in time there was a lot of furor from agitated travelers who could vent their anger at the ballot box in May 2010. It did not matter even if you are super rich because even Barcelona F.C had to partly travel overland to Italy for a UEFA Champions League semi final encounter with Inter Milan because of the no-fly enforcement.

    It will take sometime to figure out the overall impact of the volcanic ash paralysis because the implications thereof could be far reaching. Take for example, the impact on trade. Air freight to and from Western Europe came to standstill as Nissan in Germany announced temporary suspension of vehicle manufacturing because its factory was running short of some vital components from Ireland. Similarly, some industries In Europe experienced production hiccups because some parts could not be air freighted from China. In Tanzania Astral Aviation of Kenya which operates a DC-9 freighter weekly to Dar Es Salaam out of Nairobi suspended flights because there was no freight forthcoming from Europe. To a lesser scale local airlines like Precision Air missed interline traffic from European giants i.e. British Airways, KLM, et cetera. Because the airline industry and tourism are very much intertwined the latter must have been shaken by some “tremors” as well emanating from Iceland.

    The volcanic ash fiasco brought European Union (EU) regulatory aspects to the forefront. Under EU regulations all EU airlines are required to either refund airfares fully for unutilized segments of the journey or re-route their passengers on other airlines to their point of destination and also provide meals and accommodation to their stranded customers. However, once these obligations are fulfilled by the airlines customers are not entitled to additional benefits whatsoever apart from insurance companies for those who have taken insurance accordingly. Nevertheless, Ryanair, a low budget carrier is already baulking at settling meals and accommodation bills. This being the case it is quite obvious that airline customers would prefer to travel on EU registered airlines rather than non-EU airlines whose compensation policies may differ from EU’s and in most cases tend to be discretionary if not ambiguous.

    One important lesson we can take from the volcanic ash saga is the notion that the world has become like a small global village has been manifested. Indeed what started like an ordeal in faraway Iceland turned into a ghastly nightmare to millions of people stuck around the world and could have profound adverse effect to little farmers in far-flung Arusha, Tanzania and fishermen around Lake Victoria! Thanks to globalization. It is for this reason that all countries around the world must coalesce around issues of common interest like protecting the environment, fighting terrorism, etc, because as human beings we share an earthly common fate.

    Byase Luteke