Airlines watch skies - and balance books - as no-fly losses mount

Flights to and from the Czech Republic are beginning to resume as normal after Czech airspace was reopened on Monday, but the country’s airlines and airports are now counting the cost of disruption. They’re also nervously watching for news from Iceland after the emergence of a second ash cloud which threatens to ground European air traffic once again.

Czech airspace was closed shortly after midday on Friday and reopened three days later at Monday lunchtime. Life at the country’s airports is slowly returning to something approaching normality – a spokesman for the busiest, Prague Airport, said 132 planes were scheduled to take off and the same number scheduled to land on Tuesday, about two-thirds of normal daily traffic.

But when I spoke to Hana Hejsková, Communications Director of Czech Airlines at lunchtime on Tuesday, the situation still appeared to be very much in flux for the country’s national carrier.

“Today we’ve already dispatched over 25 flights and there will be more, mostly to the east and the south, for example to Moscow, Madrid, Barcelona and so on.”

And how does that compare to a normal day for Czech Airlines?

”Well normally there would be about 120 flights, so we will see what percentage we’ll be able to achieve today. We will dispatch only those flights that can be flown given the current restraints, which are among things due to the meteorological conditions, the situation at other airports, and certain other parameters. So we don’t know for sure because the situation is changing over Europe.”

That situation is changing fast, with reports of a new ash cloud spreading from Iceland on Tuesday, closing most of British airspace, including that over London. The Eurocontrol air traffic agency is dividing the skies over Europe into three zones. Zone 1 is a no-fly zone. Zone 2 is still partly affected by volcanic ash, with airlines flying at their own risk. Zone 3 is free of ash and flying is unrestricted. The Czech Republic is currently in Zone 2, although the situation is being monitored constantly by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority and could change at any time.

Photo: CTK
The airlines are of course counting the cost of having their fleets grounded. Czech Airlines, for instance, is trying to rebook passengers on future flights but those who no longer need to fly are receiving full refunds. Communications Director Hana Hejsková says this is costing Czech Airlines something in the region of tens of millions of crowns per day; the country’s largest charter airline, Travel Service, says it’s been losing 12 million a day. All eyes are on the skies – and the balance books – at a time that was already grim for the airline industry.