Cathy Pacific Airways, Air Malta, Virgin Atlantic, and airlines and shippers around the world were held at the mercy of an ash cloud from Mount Eyjafjallajokull at the edge of the Arctic Circle.
Rare and fragile cargo, like orchids, roses, and carnations, that would usually travel on overnight passenger flights, wait not so patiently in air terminals around the world.
Questions of over reaction from the airlines and the possibility of legal action, are looming. Exporters are hoping for some recovery during the upcoming selling season, but strong questions about the necessity of a complete shut down of all air traffic remain.
Holland is a major international supplier of cut flowers and potted plants. Many of these flowers are no longer grown in Holland, but in countries where growing conditions are kinder and it is easier to produce out of season flowers for European and North American markets. Most of these flowers are shipped into Holland overnight, sold at the flower market at Aalsmeer, and arrive the following day at their retail destination.
The floral industry has evolved to become the lifeblood of some developing nations who participate in this global trade worth billions of dollars. The magic seems to be a highly developed and fast-moving interaction among growers, wholesalers, and retailers that brings flowers to the world at relatively low cost. This was completely disrupted by the shutdown of all air traffic in the area.
Colombia is the second largest exporter of cut flowers. Ecuador, Ethiopia, and India follow. Israel, South Africa, Australia, Thailand, New Zealand and Malaysia are also vibrant participants. All these flowers flow through these central markets where experts tend them as they fly to their retail destinations and arrive in excellent condition. All this came to a halt.
Kenya, whose flower and gourmet vegetable exports total more than 20 per cent of its gross domestic product, has been especially hard hit by the ash from Mount Eyjafjallajokull since most of these flower exports also pass through the Aalsmeer market. One Kenyan company reports it has dumped 8 tons of flowers, and 165 tons of vegetable.
The thousands of farm workers who had been told to stay at home as harvests have stopped have returned to the fields and a representative of the Kenya Flower Council reports that things are slowly returning to normal, but damage has been done.
The Turkish flower industry was able to transport its flowers and produce to Europe and Russia by truck and report an almost doubling in sales while Ecuador and Colombia, their prime competition, destroyed 90 per cent of the inventory they had expected to ship by plane. Turkey also reports they anticipate no increase in prices.
Exporters see much work to be done to better understand air traffic conditions and to establish alternatives in case of emergency.