What Happens When Flights Resume?

As the ash stream diminishes, airlines are preparing to resume service this week; even easterly bits of Britain will allegedly put planes into the air by late tomorrow.  Airlines may require some financial assistance from their respective governments (and as I understand it, this, in turn, will require some special dispensation from the EU).  But after a massive loss this quarter, most of them will probably survive.

Here's my question, though:  what if it blows again?

As far as I can tell, there's no guarantee that there won't be another eruption, and in fact, another one may be more likely than not--quite possibly from a companion volcano that's bigger and more active than the one that just blew.

If there's another eruption, I'd expect, at minimum, several airline bankruptcies, and not just because of the interruption in service.  The uncertainty will make people reluctant to plan major events that rely on air travel--whether it's that special vacation, or important conferences.  It also has implications for the just-in-time production systems that more and more manufacturers use.

Especially in a time of rising fuel prices, airlines need to run their planes relatively full in order to break even.  They also have massive fixed costs for things like planes, and hard-to-fire employees.  If people stop wanting to place the airlines at the center of critical plans, those fixed costs will pull them under.

That doesn't mean that every European airline will go bankrupt--but it will be a real danger for a lot of them.