Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Hong Kong’s biggest carrier, said it will take weeks for European air services to return to normal following disruptions caused by a cloud of volcanic ash.
“It will be very, very difficult for the airline industry to recover,” Russell Davie, the airline’s general manager for operations, told reporters in Hong Kong today. “It will be measured in weeks rather than days.”
Major European airports will be unable to handle a large influx of extra flights following the resumption of services, as they have little spare capacity beyond their usual daily requirements, Davie said. Cathay, Singapore Airlines Ltd., Japan Airlines Corp. and other carriers have added flights to European airports unaffected by the ash cloud from Iceland or deployed larger planes to reduce backlogs of travelers stranded in Asia.
Cathay said Europe-bound flights are fully booked for the rest of the month and that it isn’t accepting reservations for flights before May 10. Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd., which doesn’t expect to operate any services to Europe before April 23, has no seats available before mid-May.
“It will be at least a week, possibly more” before operations return to normal, spokesman David Epstein told reporters in Sydney today.
Qantas has 15,500 passengers affected by canceled flights, Epstein said. Cathay has some 15,600 stranded passengers, including 1,200 staying in Hong Kong hotels, it said.
All Nippon Airways Co. and Asiana Airlines Inc. plan to resume services to Paris and Frankfurt tomorrow as the ash cloud disperses. All Nippon, Japan’s No. 2 carrier, intends to fly to London as well. Korean Air Lines Co. will decide whether to resume flights to the three cities tomorrow, it said in an e- mailed statement.
Japan Air and Singapore Airlines added extra services to Rome today, while Cathay added a bigger plane on a flight to the city. Air China Ltd. laid on more flights to Moscow. Qantas may add extra flights or larger planes, Epstein said. The carrier typically operates daily flights from Melbourne and Sydney to London and Frankfurt.
The shutdown is costing Qantas about A$1.5 million ($1.4 million) per day while the planes aren’t flying, as the company pays to put passengers up in hotels, Epstein said.
The effect on Cathay is “quite substantial,” said Ivan Chu, director of service delivery. He didn’t elaborate. European services account for about 18 percent of the airline’s sales, according to Macquarie Securities.
“The impact on the airline depends on how much longer this goes on,” said Wei Sim, an aviation analyst with Macquarie in Hong Kong. “This is not a small base we are talking about with almost one fifth of routes going to Europe.”
Cathay intends to operate its Milan and Rome services overnight, pending a final review later today. The carrier and other airlines are encouraging passengers with non-essential travel plans to cancel bookings to ease the backlog.
The disruptions are affecting Australians’ and New Zealanders’ plans to visit World War I sites in France, Belgium and Turkey for services commemorating Anzac day, the April 26 national holiday in Australia and New Zealand dedicated to those who died in military service.
“There is no way they can get to places like the Western front by Anzac day, so many are canceling,” said Jane Hodges, whose company Battle Tours runs group bookings to European sites where Australians fought. “This has devastated many Australians.”
The April 14 eruption at Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano has led to the cancellation of at least 81,000 European flights and is costing carriers as much as $300 million a day in lost sales, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Volcanic fumes have disrupted commercial air travel in the past. In 1982, all four engines on a British Airways Plc Boeing Co. 747 flying to Perth, Australia, shut down as the aircraft encountered ash spewed from Mount Galunggung in Indonesia. The plane fell for almost four miles before the pilot was able to restart three engines and make an emergency landing in Jakarta.