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Iceland’s Volcanic Fury Hobbles Hubs

That the Icelandic volcano that has shut down much of Europe’s air travel has ripple effects around the globe is well known. A recent article in the New York Times quotes the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation saying:

"The Ash Attack has already affected the travel plans of eight million passengers in Europe and around the world. The total cost for the aviation industry (airlines, airports, suppliers, freight operators, handlers, etc.) could be well over $2 billion."

But what U.S. metros are impacted the most? Reports abound about delays from Chicago to Orlando and Miami. The eruption even caused disruptions at the Coachella Valley Music Festival in Riverside, California; Frightened Rabbit indeed!

And it’s no surprise such major metropolitan areas experienced these delays.  Looking at the twelve months ending in September 2009, Brookings research shows that only five U.S. metropolitan areas are responsible for a whopping two-thirds of the flights headed to Europe (see this table; the percentages total running downward). The airports in the New York metro area alone witness 33 percent of the passengers and 36 percent of the flights.

Just because these European flights are hyper-concentrated in just a few major U.S. metros, it does not mean that other places are not impacted. Again, the ripple effects of our aviation web are intuitive. Nevertheless, 90 percent of direct European links exist in just twelve metropolitan areas, and all twelve of those metropolitan areas serve as hubs for domestic travel. These extreme shares do highlight the critical metropolitan hubs in the nation’s aviation system and reinforce their role as major centers of tourism and commerce.