Despite the resumption of limited flights in Europe, relief was still too remote Tuesday for stranded travellers and piles of cut flowers awaiting transportation from Tanzania to various destinations.
Icelandic volcano ashes spewed in the European skies since last week have left flower exporters and some 4,170 travellers in a helpless situation at Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam international airports respectively.
Agents of three main airlines linking Tanzania with European cities – KLM, Swiss Airline and Kenya Airways – indicated there was nothing they could do about the situation until they got the green light from Europe.
Stranded travellers include tourists who were ready to go back home after spending their time and resources on holidays in the country as well as foreign and local businesspersons.
Kenya Airways country manager Emmanuel Chepkong’a said the airline had cancelled 28 flights until Monday due to the volcanic eruption. The airline operates a minimum of three flights daily to and from Dar es Salaam.
For the ground service operators at the airport as well, it will be some time before they rise from the effect of the Icelandic ashes. Taxi drivers, for instance, were complaining that they have been out of business since the cancellation of the Europe-bound flights.
Meanwhile, Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) Director of Economics and Regulation, Fadhili Manongi, confirmed that nine long-range aircraft have been grounded at the airport for the same reason.
As a result, Manongi explained that Tanzanian airports have lost revenue taxes paid by airlines, aviation fuel suppliers and air catering companies.
On the horticultural side, industry sources said Tanzania was losing over 250,000 euros daily due to non-shipment of flowers to European market.
Cold storage facilities at Kilimanjaro airport and on flower farms were full to the brim because no load could be airlifted before it went bad.
“The situation is driving everybody crazy. If it persists for another five days that will be hell for us,” said Jacquiline Mkindi, executive secretary of Tanzania Horticultural Association.
“There is nothing we can do. This is beyond our control. We keep our fingers crossed that nature will be kind to us,” she added.
She said the impact of the volcanic eruption in Iceland, spewing ash over much of Western Europe, to the country’s horticulture industry could be bigger than last year’s global economic crisis.
Besides Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam international airports, Tanzanian exporters freight about 60 percent of horticultural products to Europe via Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi, Kenya. Total exports amount to approximately 60 tonnes per day.
While growers see their uncut flowers wasting away on the farms, casual labourers feared that their daily bread could be lost in the distant Icelandic volcanic dust if normal continental flights did not resume soon.
Also likely to be seriously affected by the volcanic eruption is Tanzania’s tourism industry that largely depends on holidaymakers from Europe and North America.