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Volcanic disruption may harm Queens’ economy

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The erupting volcano in Iceland that has disrupted air travel on a global scale is doing more than just spewing ash — it is blowing away revenue for the city and Queens due to the decreased activity at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“We have thousands of jobs tied up at the airport. Obviously, there’s a major economic impact,” said Dan Andrews, spokesman for Borough President Helen Marshall.

The airline industry is estimated to be losing $250 million a day since the Eyjafjallajokull volcano began erupting in the middle of last week and sending a cloud of volcanic ash over northern Europe which could harm plane engines.

Andrews noted that the borough’s tourism has benefitted and hotels have experienced an increase in business from stranded travelers at Kennedy, “but that’s not the way we want to improve the economy.”

The aviation industry is the second-largest employer in the borough, according to the Queens Air Services Development Office, with major operations in cargo as well as passenger service.

A Port Authority spokesman said it would be difficult to gauge the economic impact of the air transportation crisis on JFK because the agency compiles data monthly. He said the volcano has had no effect on so-called landing fees, a rate charged to planes landing at Kennedy based on how many thousand pounds of weight the aircraft is holding.

He said the fees are contingent upon the overall operating cost of the airport and can change. But he said the rates may be increased by a miniscule amount on the thousands of flights that land at JFK a year to compensate from the lost revenues due to the air crisis.

The spokesman said revenue from concessions at the airport may be up because of the stranded passengers while money from parking fees are probably down.

A spokesman for UPS said the company’s “vast and comprehensive ground transportation” is helping it move packages that otherwise would have been flown into northern European airports.

“The tricky part is that this situation is extremely fluid,” he said.

The spokesman said UPS has been able to fly into Madrid, Istanbul and Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

He said there have been “minimal” UPS flights leaving Kennedy, noting that most departures are taking off from Louisville, Ky., where the company’s airline is based, and Philadelphia, UPS’s northeast regional hub.

Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced deals Monday for stranded travelers, saying that 37 hotels, including the Clarion at LaGuardia Airport, and three airport transportation companies are offering 15 percent discounts to those extending their stay in the city due to the volcano.

Bloomberg said 21 museums, cultural organizations and attractions will be providing free admission for those who have had their trans-Atlantic flights canceled.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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