STAFF REPORTER

PALMA/MADRID
THE ash cloud being thrown into the atmosphere by the volcano still erupting in Iceland meant that Balearic airports handled 13.3 percent less passengers last month than they did in April 2009, the Spanish Airports Authority (AENA) reported yesterday.

The most notable decline was at Palma airport which in April this year was used by 1'334'020 travellers, 16.2 percent less than during the same month last year; Mahon on Minorca was 7.7 percent down in passenger numbers, levelling out at 101'290, but Ibiza handled 200'303 visitors in April this year, 8 percent more than it did twelve months ago.

The blow to the Balearic Islands could be clearly seen when the Airports Authority added that in terms of passenger numbers across the country as a whole, there were just 5 percent less in April this year than there were during the same month in 2009.

Meanwhile, hoteliers on Majorca are worried that due to the unpredictability of the whereabouts of the ash cloud, and to the number of flights being cancelled to and from Palma airport, there could be a high number of lost hotel bookings this weekend. It was recognised too that with visitors failing to arrive, the so-called complementary offer of bars, cafés and restaurants across the island are going to “feel the pinch” for lack of custom.

On Wednesday, there were 28 flights due to take off or land at Palma airport which were cancelled by 8pm . Of this total, 24 were connections which had been wiped from the schedule the same morning, 22 of them with Germany and 2 with Valencia. The remaining four were cancelled during the afternoon.

Yesterday's ash cloud movements were forecast to continue disrupting European air traffic. As a result, British and German tour operators had to reschedule flights so as not to undermine their commitments to Balearic (and other) holiday destinations. Alvaro Middelman, former Majorcan Tourist Board chief and current Air Berlin director for Spain and Portugal, said yesterday that he was “tremendously sorry” for the havoc that the ash cloud was wreaking in the European tourist industry and in national business. He called for an effective means of predicting the whereabouts and density of the ash cloud so that airlines could work around it. “Restrictions should be based on solid data rather than guess work,” he claimed.