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Stranded in Mississippi

A plume of ash rises from the volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier on April 19. Meteorologists in Iceland said eruptions from the volcano were weakening and the ash was no longer rising to a height where it would endanger large commercial aircraft.

A plume of ash rises from the volcano in southern Iceland

Volcanic event in Iceland takes toll here

Michael Jungsvig, business developer at Danish solar energy products company SolarVenti A/S, arrived in the U.S. April 13 to sign a U.S. distribution agreement with Kight Energy, LLC, of Madison.

He was supposed to leave April 17.

That’s where his story gets interesting.

Air travel to Europe had begun crawling again late last week after grinding to a halt for nearly a week after a volcano in Iceland erupted, sending its contents miles high and darkening the skies with engine-choking ash.

Jungsvig’s deal with Kight marked SolarVenti’s first foray in the U.S. market, a milestone that would touch off a celebration in any competitive office. Jungsvig, though, missed the party.

“I’ve had a very nice time, but it’s very frustrating,” said Jungsvig. “I’ve had to cancel business meetings, and I can’t get back home to celebrate this new agreement with Kight Energy. But, I’m very lucky — at least I’m not stuck in an airport somewhere.”

U.S. airports that offer direct flights to Europe – Detroit, Charlotte, JFK and La Guardia – spent most of last week packed with stranded travelers whose flights were canceled because the volcanic ash made airspace impassable.

By the time the Mississippi Business Journal went to press Thursday afternoon, Jungsvig hoped to leave the following Friday.

If not, Robie Kight, founder of Kight Energy, who had put Jungsvig up at his home in Madison, was planning to take Jungsvig to New Orleans for the weekend to break the boredom.

Airports that offer direct international flights to Europe are considered a jewel in the world of economic development. They offer quick access to the global marketplace so many cities in the U.S. depend on for viability.

But what has long been a major economic advantage turned into an albatross last week. Passengers who had arrived in the U.S. before the volcano’s eruption found themselves with nowhere to go once the ash filled the skies.

Airport restrooms became the only option for some travelers to get a bath. Terminals had turned into hostels. Tempers were short and solutions were few.

And they weren’t the only ones suffering. The most up to date tally last week for airline losses stood at $1.7 billion, a significant hit for an industry that has yet to recover from the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington eight and a half years ago.

While chaos spread among the nation’s bigger airports, serenity reigned at Jackson-Evers International Airport in Jackson.

“We have almost no impact whatsoever,” Jackson Municipal Airport Authority COO Bonnie Wilson said Wednesday afternoon. “This is the thing: This has been going on long enough that nobody’s going to camp out at Jackson International Airport. If they’re going to camp out somewhere, they’re going to leave here and go to one of the international departure legs of their plan.”

For once, the lack of direct international flights helped Jackson.

“We can send you from here to Charlotte directly to London,” Wilson said. “We can send you from here to Detroit directly to Amsterdam and from here to Atlanta directly to Madrid. There may be some people here in the city (who can’t get an international flight), but they’re not coming here to the airport, because there would be no point.

“In this day and age, you just get on the Internet and book the next available flight. Then you get an e-mail, Twitter or a text message back from whatever airline you were booking with telling you that your flight that was supposed to leave today is leaving next week. What happens in the first couple of days, people get stranded in the direct impact area. But after a week, you even out the problem because people just stop starting because they already know they’re not going to get there. What’s the point in getting halfway there?”

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About Clay Chandler

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