Monday, January 20, 2014

Volcanoes, Sheep and Airlines: The Argentinean Ash Problem

article from October 4, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

Those of us living in the Southern Hemisphere are well aware of the effects of the Chilean volcanic eruption of Puyehue-Cordón Caulle. Flights in a large swath of South America had to be cancelled for weeks, and after the initial ash cloud had made its way around the world, flights in Australia and New Zealand had to be cancelled as well, causing massive disruption to peoples' travel plans and large losses for the air carriers.

The initial eruption from the Cordón-Caulle fissure occurred June 4, 2011, and by June 18, exactly two weeks later, the ash cloud had completed is circling of the globe. No human lives were lost. The dimensions of this natural disaster, however, keep growing. The economic impact of the Argentinean winter-sports tourist industry has been devastating, with almost the entire season lost due to the ash fall, closure of the airspace and the associated bad publicity.

The effect on livestock has been tragic, with thousands of cattle and horses having died because of lack of food and water as well as from ingestion of the fallen ashes. And in Argentine Patagonia, it is estimated that half a million sheep have perished. The ashes have not just contributed to the deaths of many of these sheep by way of ingestion of ash-covered forage, but have also diminished the amount of their available pasture. An additional complication has been the added weight of the volcanic emissions, which, when combined with rain, has created so much additional bulk that the poor creatures have been having difficulties moving about, and when they lie down, many simply cannot get back up.

Of course, the steady deposit of more ashes has complicated lives for the human population, as well. Aside from being harmful when inhaled, there is a constant struggle to keep roofs from collapsing under the weight of accumulated deposits, with traveling and routine trips to the store having become very hazardous. In some areas of the province of Chubut, the accumulations on roads are up to 1 meter, costing the Public Works Department a fortune to clear and maintain.

This is also a minor contributor to the hemorrhaging of cash that the government-owned Aerolineas Argentinas is suffering from. While the national airline enjoys a near-monopoly on domestic flights, it did not help things that, for a large portion of the winter season, the Patagonian ski areas were unreachable by air. For weeks, all flights from Buenos Aires south were cancelled, and on many days, no flights out of Buenos Aires operated at all. While sitting idly on the ground, the leasing fees, along with everything else involved, such as insurance, continued to accumulate.

The Argentinean flag carrier, sadly, has the distinction of being the third-most money-losing carrier in the world, with a loss of US$486 million in the past year. While that is serious money for the nation, consider Air India, which lost $1.2 billion over the same period. Government ownership always means that there need not be too much worry about efficiency, and of course, there is a lot that is allowed to fall between the cracks. But it all adds up in the end.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza
I was introduced to that Fine Malbec Wine on an intercontinental flight on Aerolineas!

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.