Crisis Abating as Asia-Pacific Flights Take off for Europe

The Bali Times

Thousands of Europe-bound passengers were flying out of Asia-Pacific airports on Wednesday, as the region’s airlines estimated they were losing US$40 million a day to the aerial lockdown.

Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Virgin flights were taking off from Australia and New Zealand while Air China announced that all its Europe flights would also be departing.

Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific said it would run four flights to London and one each to Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam on Wednesday and early Thursday. Flights to Rome and Milan would also resume.

Manila’s only direct flight to Europe, a KLM service to Amsterdam, left on schedule Wednesday morning.

Aircraft accelerating down runways marked what the industry hopes will be the end of an almost week-long lockdown caused by ash spewed from an Icelandic volcano.

Andrew Herdman, director-general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), said it was a “reasonable estimate” that Asia-Pacific airlines could lose $40 million a day in revenue.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated the loss for global airlines at 200 million euros ($270 million) a day.

Thousands of flights have been cancelled and hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded worldwide after European authorities designated much of the continent a no-fly zone due to ash clouds spewing from the volcano since last Wednesday.

But the first passengers among thousands stranded in Australia were flying out for Europe, via Asia, on Wednesday afternoon. Air New Zealand planned three extra flights to help clear the backlog.

“We hope to be getting passengers on flights from Australia this afternoon to make that connection with that flight to London,” a Singapore Airlines spokeswoman said. “We are resuming normal services as quickly as we can.”

Flights to Europe were stopped from late last Thursday as an ash cloud from the Icelandic eruption forced the closure of London’s Heathrow and other European airports.

The authorities fear the ash and dust could pose a danger to jet engines and airframes, but carriers worldwide have slammed the blanket shutout.

Qantas said it would resume services from Australia and Asia on Wednesday following the reopening of airspace across Europe.

“Qantas welcomes the opening of airspace and we will resume flights out of the UK to Australia today and from Asia to London and Frankfurt,” chief executive Alan Joyce said.

“We are working on providing supplementary services to help clear the backlog and we will let our customers know as soon as possible,” he said.

Qantas, which has seen as many as 10,000 passengers stranded by the airline chaos, said it was likely to take two to three weeks to clear the backlog.

Air New Zealand also said it planned to start resuming it services in and out of London from Wednesday.

New Zealand’s national carrier said it plans three extra flights in the first 24 hours to try to start clearing the backlog of passengers.

Around 2,000 visitors to New Zealand have been stranded by the disruption to European services and 1,000 New Zealanders were reported to be stranded in Britain alone.

A Virgin Atlantic flight bound for London left Sydney on Wednesday afternoon but a spokesman warned earlier that European airspace may not stay open as the volcanic ash continues to threaten.

“Our 2:25 pm flight to London via Hong Kong is leaving. It’s full to capacity,” he said.

“I think our position is we’re taking the opportunity while it exists.”

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