Given the predictions from the UK MetOffice regarding the migration of the ash cloud over Europe and the North Atlantic :
one might imagine that the volcano Eyjafjallajokull will continue to huff and puff for days. The next on offer might be to conceive some interesting options for gateways into the European continent.
If disruptions to flight-ops for LHR, FRA, CDG/ORL, AMS, ZRH, etc. were to continue, one might envision the (crazy?) possibility of using Madrid (MAD) or even Rome (FCO) as alternative gateways into which a number of major transcon flights would enter the European continent, assuming approved ascents and descents between surface and flight-level 35,000 feet (SFC and FLT 350).
As MAD appears to be in a zone relatively free of ash (see UK MetOffice map above), questions raised about the possibility of utilizing MAD as a “high-tier European hub” would include: terminal and facility capacity for increased numbers in inbound/outbound pax, in airline- and ground-staff, as well as gate-capacity and pax-controls (as well as the controlled separation between Schengen and non-Schengen traffic). Since MAD is an Iberia and OneWorld hub and is already served by various AA and IB non-stops (for example, to North- and South America), diverting additional AA, IB, and BA transcon/transat traffic to MAD from LHR or FRA might not seem so problematic. The fun begins when one begins thinking about incorporating operations by other transcon carriers from North America, the Middle East, and Asia, let alone the inclusion of Lufthansa, which operates the lion’s share of air traffic within Europe.
With possible flight-ops restricted to below FLT 200 and to VFR-only ops, “IntraEuropean” flights from MAD to other European cities/capitals would be curtailed and operated at strict frequencies. It would be like bus-service after all, and I wonder if some of the airlines wouldn’t be going on a run for more smaller/narrow-body planes, or even RJs or turboprops, if the companies could figure out a decent service-plan and a return (if any!) on going to smaller aircraft. The impact on European LCCs would be something to consider, too, but that’s beyond what I had originally in mind …
As a whole, picturing an alternative means of entering Europe in an “ash-free” zone and how the facility like MAD would cope with additional capacity were both worth a moment’s pause.
Yeah, it’s crazy, and I might be wrong, but it’s just a thought.
HL – 0345h GMT, 19 Apr 2010