Volcano air, tourism costs may hit EUR 2.5bn in Europe
(BRUSSELS) - Losses to Europe's air and tourism sectors caused by the ash cloud from Iceland could hit 2.5 billion euros, the EU's top transport official said Tuesday, as he proposed measures to help them recover.
"We are working with a number of somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 billion euros (1.9 and 3.3 billion dollars)," EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas told reporters in Brussels.
He said the damage calculations -- some 100,000 flights were cancelled with around 10 million passengers affected over a week -- were being made from figures sent to Brussels from industry stakeholders in Europe.
"We need carefully to assess and evaluate these numbers," he said, adding that the total losses were based on figures from airlines, airports, ground handling, tour operators and even hotels who provided services.
Iceland's Eyjafjoell volcano erupted on April 14, spreading an ash cloud across much of northern and western Europe and triggering the biggest disruption to aviation since World War II.
The international airline industry body, IATA, said the shutdown cost carriers some 1.7 billion dollars (1.3 billion euros) and called on governments to pick up at least part of the cost, angered by their handling of the crisis.
Kallas said the commission "considers that the exceptional circumstances of recent days may justify support measures to offset losses incurred," as long as any proposed aid does not distort competition.
To help the recovery, he urged temporary measures such as letting airlines keep flight slots not used during the crisis and an easing of night flying rules to help stranded passengers and get freight deliveries back on track.
Kallas also called for pan-European enforcement of EU passenger rights laws.
Longer term, he said coordination in such crises could be boosted by fast-tracking the "single skies" package, which would streamline control over Europe's fractured air space and was expected to enter force in 2012.
He also called for European "crisis planning," which could include ways to allow one kind of transport to supplement another in times of trouble, and said he would create a structure uniting stakeholders in the aviation industry.
"This crisis has put in stark relief the critical role that the air transport sector plays in the functioning of the European economy," he said.
"It is in our interest to get the air transport sector over this crisis and back to normal operating conditions."
IATA and the Association of European Airlines (AEA) welcomed the measures proposed by Kallas.
"This was an event completely beyond the control of airlines," IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani said in a statement.
"We don't want bailouts, but government compensation for costs -- including the cost of lost revenue and providing extended care to passengers -- should be provided to airlines in line with Europe's established rules...," he said.
AEA chief Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus said: "We are pleased to note that, as a matter of urgency and importance, practical measures will be put in place to ensure that any future incidents of this kind will be handled in a much more efficient and less disruptive manner."
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