Friday, April 16, 2010

UK flights stay grounded, travellers take land route

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London April 17, 2010

The situation in UK’s air travel industry remains grim for the second day, as all airports remained closed due to smoke and ash emanating from an Icelandic volcano over the last 36 hours.

Passengers in major airports remained stranded, even as alternate land transport services were pressed into action to cope with the increased demand.

Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, said the cloud of volcanic ash was continuing to move east and south-east and the impact would continue for at least the next 24 hours. Eurocontrol is an intergovernmental organisation, made up of 38 states and the European Community.

It also said that airspace was not available for operation of civilian aircraft in Ireland, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, the north of France, including all Paris airports, parts of Germany including Düsseldorf, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin and the airspace around Frankfurt, parts of Poland including Warsaw airport.

National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the UK’s leading air navigation services provider, said the cloud of volcanic ash continued to cover much of the UK and the eruption in Iceland continued. “Following a review of the latest Met Office information, NATS advises that restrictions preventing flights in English-controlled airspace will remain in place until 0100 (UK time) tomorrow at the earliest,” it said.

NATS said the flights in Northern Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland, to and from Glasgow and Prestwick would continue to be allowed until 1900 (UK time), subject to individual co-ordination. North Atlantic traffic to and from Glasgow, Prestwick and Belfast might also be allowed in this period.

Alternate transport service provider like Eurostar today started providing additional seats for air passengers, wished to connect to continental Europe to Paris and Brussels.

National Rail, one of largest railway network in UK, said coach services to and from Scotland and London were on sale today, with hundreds of extra seats added to help people stranded as a result of the airport closures. Eurolines, the European coach operator, added nearly a thousand extra seats to Europe, with its services to Dublin, Paris and Amsterdam most in demand. “Demand is very high, but more coaches are being added on a regular basis,” a note from National Rail said.

Paul Bunting, National Express managing director, said, “Coach travel is proving to be very popular and we are adding in as many extra services as possible to cater for demand, especially to and from Scotland. Eurolines coach services to Europe are particularly busy, with people still wanting to get their destination across the Channel.”

Despite the large number of passengers stranded at airports, hotels in London did not report any unusual surge in demand. However Premier Inn, a large network of budget hotels, said it was witnessing an increase in bookings at the airport sites. This group also said it was not running out of rooms for those travelling on a budget.

Stocks prices of airline operators British Airways and Ryanair dropped on London Stock Exchange. BA stocks fell by 1.65 per cent to £238.6, while low-cost carrier Ryanair fell by 2.63 per cent to £3.89. Stock prices of European operators Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, however, improved by 3 per cent and 3.9 per cent respectively on LSE. (all changes as of 3:30 pm, UK time).

Analysts said that a few days of flight disruption would not be financially damaging for airline operators. However, it would worsen if the situation continues to remain grim for a longer period.

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