LONDON – More airports across Europe shut down Saturday as a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland spread deeper into the continent and experts began to warn of mounting economic damage from the largest closure of airspace since the September 11 terror attacks.
Authorities in the United Kingdom extended the ban on flights across most of the country until at least 1 a.m. local time Sunday, pushing the airport shutdowns there into a fourth day amid more signs that the crisis will last far longer.
The UK’s National Air Traffic Service issued a statement saying, “Current forecasts show that the situation is worsening throughout Saturday.”
Closures that had already hit London, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt spread to Eastern Europe, with flights halted in Poland, the Czech Republic and as far as the Ukraine.
With all international airports in Germany closed, Lufthansa said it had no aircraft in the air anywhere in the world and airlines in Asia canceled all services to Europe. Cathay Pacific Airways stopped taking bookings for flights to Europe for the rest of the month.
Eurocontrol estimated close to 17,000 flights had been canceled in the first three days of the shutdown.
The Air Transport Association said air carriers were facing cumulative losses of some $200 million a day..
The impact on cargo operations and shippers that depend on expedited transport also grew as passenger airlines and cargo carriers were unable to get goods in or out of Europe.
“We are looking at the option of diverting flights into airports in South Europe on a case-by-case basis, but as you can imagine that are any factors to consider including the availability of accommodations at the airport and other facilities,” said Sandra Munoz, a spokeswoman for FedEx.
There were growing predictions of higher food prices in the United Kingdom as supply chains for perishables from Africa and the Middle East were shut down.