– The plume of volcanic ash drifting across Europe following the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjalla in Iceland on 14 April has determined the closure of a major part of European airports since Thursday 15 April.
– According to Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for Safety of Air Navigation, around 63,000 flights have been cancelled in the European airspace between 15 and 18 April.
– Safety is the priority in any situation of this type. The competent authorities across Europe and beyond, namely Eurocontrol, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have been fast and efficient to react. The International Airways Volcano Watch (IAVW) system, established by ICAO in coordination with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), has proven to be effective in ensuring the safety of air transport following the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjalla.
– Millions of people inside and outside Europe have been affected by the current disruption of air traffic. The most important issue is that travellers are unable to move – to leave or return – and that airlines, hotels, tour operators as well as local tourism authorities and diplomatic representations are facing extreme pressures to respond in the most adequate way possible to safeguard the rights and well being of travellers.
– UNWTO urges all parties, namely the travel industry public and private sector, to act fairly and:
a) to put responsibility towards travellers first;
b) to foster close cooperation in order to mitigate as much as possible the negative impact of the current situation on travellers;
c) to respect existing travellers’ rights.
– The European Commission recalls that even in exceptional circumstances EU passenger rights continue to apply, namely:
o the right to receive information from airlines (e.g. on rights, on the situation as it evolves, cancellations and length of delays);
o the right to care (meals and accommodation as appropriate);
o the right to chose between reimbursement of fares or be re-routed to final destination.
– Recalling the importance of air transport to tourism in Europe the current air traffic disruption is expected to have a significant economic impact. Europe receives every year 240 million international tourist air arrivals, or 700 thousand a day, which generate a yearly income of US$ 200 billion.
– The level of the impact will depend on the duration of the current situation and on the extent of cancelled flights, but it surely represents an additional burden to the tourism sector, particularly to the airline industry, which has been struggling to recover from the economic crisis.
– UNWTO is in close contact with the competent authorities, key tourism stakeholders as well as with its Member countries to follow-up the situation and is activating the Tourism Emergency Response Network (TERN).
– UNWTO will be charging its Ethics Committee to monitor the current situation in the context of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and consider the need for coherent principles for consumer support.