When the system stops

When the system stops working

On 14 April 2010, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted with an ash plume that rose over three kilometres blowing across much of Europe’s airspace. As air traffic was suspended due to safety concerns, it provides a useful study of how modern life might be impacted without aviation.

  • Around 10 million passengers were disrupted and over 100,000 flights cancelled during the entire period of disruption, which lasted five weeks (although the main shutdown impact was for one week).
  • Total disruption at its peak meant just under a third of total global air traffic capacity was affected.
  • The global loss of visitor spending was estimated at $1.6 billion, primarily to the hospitality sector.
  • International trade was also severely disrupted, particularly for perishable goods and just-in-time production processes.

Following the massive airspace shutdown in the first week, another 5,000 flights were sporadically cancelled. This brought the total to $5 billion lost GDP between 15 April and 24 May 2010.

International trade was severely disrupted as a result of the flight restrictions. While some of the disrupted trade could be deferred, this was not the case for products that were either fast perishing, such as fresh-cut flowers, vegetables and exotic fruit, or crucial just-in-time production components.

The impact on producers of flowers and fruit and vegetables in African countries such as Kenya, Zambia and Ghana were reported widely, with delays in transportation meaning large quantities of fast-perishing produce rotted. Former World Bank president Robert Zoellick stated that African countries lost $65 million.

Exports of flowers to Europe from South America were also affected, costing producers around $3 million. KITA, the Korea International Trade Association has stated that losses for domestic industries between April 16 and 19 were an estimated $112 million, with suppliers of mobile phones and semi-conductors the hardest hit. Car production lines in Europe and Asia suspended production as crucial components could not reach factories.