Ash strands 8 000 in UAE
Dubai - More than 8 000 transit passengers have been stranded in the Gulf desert emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi by cancelled flights due to Europe's volcanic ash cloud, Emirates airlines said on Sunday.
Emirates Airlines "is providing accommodation and three meals a day for approximately 6 000 passengers who were in transit (in Dubai) when the disruption began, at a cost of more than $1m a day," the Dubai-based carrier said.
The disruption has cost the airline more than $50m and affected a total of over 80 000 passengers, it said.
And 2 500 transit passengers on Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways have been stranded by cancellations since Thursday in the United Arab Emirates capital, a spokesperson for the airline said.
"We are accommodating those passengers in approximately 1 500 rooms in 12 hotels across the city," the spokesperson said, without giving an estimate of the costs to the airline.
Emirates said it scrapped all flights to Europe on Sunday except Moscow, Athens, Larnaca, Malta and Istanbul until April 20 due to an ash cloud that has drifted over Europe from a volcano in Iceland.
Etihad said later that it has reinstated flights to Russia, but that services were cancelled to "the UK, Ireland, Belarus and the majority of its European destinations until further notice".
Emirates said about 30 of its aircraft, or one-fifth of its fleet, were grounded due to the ash cloud.
"The scale of this crisis is unlike anything I have experienced in my career," said Emirates president Tim Clark. "The longer it continues, the more complex the recovery process becomes."
"We estimate it will take around 24 hours to get the flight schedules back to normal" after aircraft are given clearance to fly again, Clark said.
"Over 80 000 passengers have been impacted" by the cancellations, Emirates said in a statement. "The ongoing volcanic ash disruption has already cost (the airline) $50m."
Emirates said earlier that 229 of its flights had been cancelled so far.
The Etihad spokesperson said that 77 of its flights had been scrapped and that more than 16 000 people were affected, with more cancellations expected on Monday.
"From the time we would receive the all-clear (for aircraft to fly), it would take 24 to 36 hours" to return to a normal flight schedule, the spokesperson said.
A volcano on a glacier in Iceland has been erupting since Wednesday, sending ash drifting towards Europe at an altitude of about 8-10km.
About 30 countries have closed or restricted their airspace, although some European airports tentatively reopened on Sunday.
Justifying the widespread airport closures, aviation officials have explained that airplane engines could become clogged up and stop working if aircraft tried to fly through the ash.