Volcanic Ash's Airline Impact Cooling

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Five days into Europe's volcanic ash aviation crisis, the impact seemed to diminish, as Lufthansa said it will operate 50 flights into Germany on Monday, British Airways said it will resume some flights to London on Tuesday and other European carriers also began to ramp up their idled operations.

Lufthansa said aircraft will take off from North and South America, Asia, and Africa. Of the 50 flights, 27 will depart Monday afternoon from North America to Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf, with arrivals scheduled in Germany on Tuesday. In addition, Lufthansa will operate some flights from Germany to select long-haul destinations, as well as some intra-Germany service. The carrier said more information is available at www.lufthansa.com.
Iceland volcano
Travelers stranded by the Iceland volcanic ash cloud take to cots at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on April 19, 2010.

British Airways said it will start to resume London flying on Tuesday afternoon, following the proposed reopening of UK and European airspace. "We will aim to operate longhaul departures that were scheduled to depart after 4 p.m. and shorthaul departures scheduled to depart after 7 p.m.," the carrier said.

"We are working on detailed plans to help as many customers as possible who have been unable to fly due to the unprecedented circumstances that have faced all airlines operating in northern Europe over the last five days," British Airways said, noting that it has more than 80 aircraft and almost 3,000 flight attendants and pilots out of position in overseas locations around the world. It directed passengers to check ba.com for more information.

Also, Air France said Monday that it is flying 13 long-haul flights into France, including five cargo flights that will land in Paris, while seven longhaul flights will depart. On Tuesday, Air France plans to operate at least 17 long-haul departures. KLM said that all intercontinental flights scheduled to arrive at its Amsterdam hub on Monday would be decided on a case by case basis, at the latest four hours before departure.

Meanwhile, meteorologists said eruptions from the volcano were weakening and the ash was no longer rising to a height where it would endanger large commercial aircraft, The Associated Press reported. British Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis confirmed there was been a "dramatic reduction in volcanic activity," AP said.

Globally, the crisis has been costing airlines at least $200 million a day, or $1 billion since it began, according to the International Air Transport Association. On Monday, ITA criticized European governments for a haphazard approach that includes a lack of leadership in handling flight restrictions and airspace closures based on theoretical modeling of the ash cloud.

For their part, U.S. carriers canceled the bulk of their European flights on Monday. American ( AMR) said it canceled 60 flights Monday, but is operating normally in Madrid, Barcelona, Rome and Milan. On Sunday, American canceled 68 flights to and from Europe. United ( UAUA) canceled 56 European flights on Monday, but is operating in Rome, Kuwait and Dubai.

Through Sunday, U.S. carriers had canceled 1,037 flights between the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. Air Transport Association reported. U.S. carriers operate about 337 trans-Atlantic flights each day, and canceled about 77% of them Thursday through Sunday. Sunday saw 310 cancellations, the most during the four-day period.

Airline analyst Robert Herbst, founder of AirlineFinancials.com, estimates the five U.S. passenger airlines with European operations are collectively losing about $36 million in revenue per day since Friday, April 16, after losing $17 million in revenue Thursday. He said operating losses are $22 million a day, after accounting for savings from unused fuel, unpaid landing fees, lower labor costs and other savings.

Herbst said Delta ( DAL), the largest carrier to Europe, loses $10.4 million a day in revenue because of the crisis, with an operating loss of $6.5 million. United is losing $8.4 million in revenue with an operating loss of $5.2 million. American is losing $7.6 million in revenue with an operating loss of $4.6 million. Continental ( CAL) is losing $5.6 million in revenue with an operating loss of $3.4 million. US Airways ( LCC) is losing $3.7 million in revenue with an operating loss of $2.2 million.

None of the airlines have disclosed losses, although some discussion of the topic is expected this week as report earnings, starting with Delta on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, IATA harshly criticized the strategy of closing airspace based on theoretical modeling of the ash cloud. "This means that governments have not taken their responsibility to make clear decisions based on facts," said CEO Giovanni Bisignani, in a prepared statement. "It has been the air navigation service providers who announced that they would not provide service. And these decisions have been taken without adequately consulting the airlines. This is not an acceptable system particularly when the consequences for safety and the economy are so large.

Bisignani added that the system of blanket closures of airspace have resulted in "missed opportunities to fly safely," adding that the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 did not result in such large scale disruptions "because the decisions to open or close airspace were risk managed, with no compromise on safety."

The current crisis provides yet another indication of the airline industry's broad exposure to exogenous events. Even though the airline industry is benefitting from an improving economy, the return of business travel and the reformulation of its business model to include billions in fee revenue as well as capacity discipline, it has been hampered this year by rising fuel prices, harsh winter weather and now a volcanic eruption in Iceland.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. .

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