Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Air Travel Disruption Twice As Long as After 9/11 and Counting

The air travel disruptions and chaos due to the ash spewing from the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland have now lasted 6 days, twice the period of time that air travel to/from the US was shut down following 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of travelers have been affected, and even the British navy was enlisted to try to ferry some of its stranded citizens (with not complete success). Flowers and farm products are rotting in warehouses in Kenya (since these usually are distributed to Europe by air cargo flights), travelers have been camped out for days in the JFK airport as well as in affected airports in Europe. Artists and musicians cannot make their appointed events in the US. Student groups from the US have had their dream trips to Europe abandoned due to the flight cancellations, and athletes have been unable to compete in the Boston Marathon and in a world skating event in France, since they have been unable to reach their destinations. Of course, academics have also been unable to give talks abroad since their flights have been canceled, as well.

Even President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany canceled their appearances at the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski of Poland and his wife, Maria, who, along with dozens of other Polish dignitaries, perished tragically in a place crash in Russia recently. Chancellor Merkel had to take quite the circuitous route and combination of modes of transportation (even riding a bus from northern Italy to Germany) to make it back from the US because of the air travel disruptions.

The Dow Jones Newswire is reporting that Asian chip and cellphone makers could be affected if the European air space closure does not end soon. Although most electronic products from Asia are shipped by sea, smaller products such as cellphones and ships are transported by air. Samsung spokesman James Chung, was quoted as saying in the report, If this volcano problem lasts longer than expected, it would have a direct impact on Samsung's chip and cellphone exports. The crisis is costing the European economy alone billions of dollars in lost business. Airlines, already suffering from economic woes, are sustaining losses of hundreds of millions of dollars a day.

Now The New York Times is reporting that a new ash cloud is looming from the Iceland volcano whose recent eruption has affected travel and economic activity from Beijing to New York!

While this natural event has been evolving and has impacted broad swaths of the civilized world, and has resulted in major economic damage (plus personal discomfort and dislocation for many), I have been busy at work completing a paper (in which the volcanic eruption is noted). The paper, Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain Age, is a synthesis of my recent work with Professor Patrick Qiang on network vulnerability and robustness and how to identify which nodes and links in network systems (including transportation ones and the Internet) are the most important. The paper also discusses synergies associated with exploiting network structure from corporate mergers and acquisitions to teaming of humanitarian organizations in the case of disasters for logistics operations. The paper is an invited one for the journal, International Transactions in Operational Research, and is the topic of the tutorial that I will be presenting at the ALIO-INFORMS International Meeting to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 6-9, 2010.