While the arrival of the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano a few weeks ago might have been viewed as one of the novelties of time that history throws up again now and again, its reappearance this week could cast a darker cloud on the Irish economy.
Last night and this morning, there is massive uncertainty and disruption for tens of thousands of air travellers as the country’s airports continue to be shut on the advice of the aviation authority. People who are travelling for a variety of reasons, business, leisure or medical do not know whether or not the situation will change in time for their chosen flight to depart. In terms of international crises, it is one that is bizarre and unprecedented in the extreme, and one that is causing massive short-term havoc to many of us, including the Galway senior football team who having scraped through the match against New York on Sunday evening, are as we write, bussing it across the UK in a bid to get a boat home to Ireland. It is like something from the 1950s, but it is a strong reminder of the peripherality of the island on which we live and it is this factor that could yet see us suffer the most from the prolonged presence of the ash cloud from the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull.
There is no doubt that in cases like this, it is accepted that safety is paramount and flights should be grounded. However, the long term impact on the Irish economy is now being examined and the results do not make for happy reading.
Experts have stated this week that Ireland could be the country to lose out the most from the potential cloud mass given our geographical location and our peripherality in terms of connections to mainland Europe. If disruptions such as this week’s continue, then it will enter the mindset of potential tourists who may opt to stay on mainland Europe rather than risk the chance of being trapped here for days and perhaps weeks on end.
The potential cost of further disruption to airlines, airports, and all sectors of the tourism industry are immense. Last month 100,000 flights were cancelled internationally and about 10 million passengers were affected, at a cost to the air business of up to €2.5bn. Hotels and accommodation providers in the region will suffer because bookings cannot be fulfilled through no fault of the customers.
The experts have warned us to be ready for a summer of discontent from the volcanic ash and it is yet unclear as to when it will have dispersed permanently. After the frost, the snow, the ice, and the floods, what next is Mother Nature going to throw at us in the midst of this recession?