Brussels, Belgium Oct. 26, 2001 (AP by Constant Brand)--Trans-Atlantic air travel has dropped by more than one-third since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Association of European Airlines says, bringing some of Europe's flag carriers close to bankruptcy.
The chairman of British Airways, Europe's largest airline, said the effects have been ``far sharper and more devastating'' than the Gulf War.
The attacks _ in which hijacked airliners were used as missiles to hit targets in New York and Washington _ forced the United States and Canada to close its airspace for four days, causing major disruption in trans-Atlantic air traffic.
In the month since the strikes, trans-Atlantic ridership on Europe's largest airlines dropped by 36.2 percent, said the AEA, which represents Europe's 29 major air carriers.
``The trend is worsening,'' an AEA statement said.
Ridership on other key destinations also plunged, with traffic on European routes down 9.6 percent, and traffic on flights to Asia and Australia down 14.8 percent.
The AEA estimates member airlines _ including British Airways, Swissair, KLM and Lufthansa _ will lose at least $2 billion up to December and will be forced to ground 108 aircraft, putting 20,000 jobs in jeopardy.
Brought to near bankruptcy, some of Europe's flag carriers have lobbied the European Union for short-term aid to survive the crisis, pointing to Washington's readiness to offer billions of dollars worth of aid to U.S. carriers.
Italy's national carrier Alitalia has put together a new crisis plan calling for 5,200 layoffs, more than twice the number announced previously, news reports said Wednesday.
An emergency plan right after the attacks, included cutting 2,500 jobs, or 11 percent of the company's work force, grounding more than a dozen planes and reducing its flight schedule.
British Airways chairman, chairman Lord Marshall said Wednesday that there is little sign of recovery in Europe's slumping airline industry and the crisis will likely lead to cross-border consolidation of struggling carriers.
Passenger numbers for BA have dropped by up to 25 percent since the attacks, he said.
``Extraordinary times call for extraordinary solutions, and there is no doubt that the European airline industry is crying out for consolidation,'' he said.
Marshall said BA was close to completing 7,200 job cuts announced in the wake of the attacks, adding that further layoffs would depend on how long people shy away from air travel.
Austrian Airlines said 6 percent fewer passengers flew on the carrier in the last month, compared to the same month last year.
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