Volcano Eruption and Air Travel’s Economic Importance

My new post at The New York Times’ Room for Debate blog on aviation’s importance to the world economy:

The disruptions to air travel caused by a hasty overreaction to the volcano eruption in Iceland illustrate how our global economy depends on aviation.

Nearly one-third, by value, of all world trade moves by air. Components for BMW’s South Carolina auto plant arrive daily by air. Summer fruit from Chile reaches our supermarkets all winter by air and flowers from Kenya reach the whole world by air via The Netherlands. Global tourism, made possible by aviation, is by some measures the world’s largest industry.

Airlines lost nearly $2 billion in revenues from the European shutdown, European Union airports an additional $400 million, and air traffic control providers another $160 million.

All had a stake in reopening airspace as rapidly as possible — but they were stymied by confused and panicked government policymakers. Officials relied on generic computer models rather than sending up test planes from day one to more precisely map the ash cloud in real time.

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