The financial damage caused by the Icelandic volcano to the global aviation industry could be greater than the September 11 terrorist attack in the US in 2001, say experts.

The eruption of ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier in Iceland, which began April 14, has halted air traffic throughout central and northern Europe, leaving thousands of travellers stranded and forcing more than 20 European countries to close their airspace.

“International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) experts believe the effects of the volcanic eruption for the air industry could be worse than the effects of 9/11,” said Kommersant, a Russian business daily.

According to the ICAO, the international air industry lost $24.3 billion after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

International Air Transport Association experts said the major air carriers are losing more than $200 million daily as a result of the volcano disruptions. But other experts have said it is difficult to estimate the extent of the losses.

“A lot will depend on the passengers – how many decide to return tickets and how many will wait for later flights”, Kommersant quoted the head of the analytical department of Aviaport agency, Olga Panteleeva as saying.

According to Russia’s transport ministry, around 12,000 Russians were stranded across Europe.

“Airports are empty, trains are crowded, it is impossible to go anywhere,” Rustem Adagamov, a Russian who is stranded in Berlin, was quoted as saying.

The paper quoted Aeroflot official, Oleg Mikhailov, as saying that Russian airline Aeroflot was suggesting stranded passengers use open airports in the South of Europe to return to Russia.

Aeroflot has allocated additional high capacity aircraft to repatriate stranded passengers. It has begun picking up passengers booked on Alitalia, Air France, KLM and Singapore Airlines flights.

All tickets are sold out for the week ahead and desperate passengers are turning to other forms of transport. Taxi-drivers at Moscow Sheremetyevo airport are offering 1000 euros to drive to Warsaw, the report said.

Losses are causing shares of top airlines plummet. French-Dutch Air France-KLM opened down 4.63 percent, German Lufthansa down 4 percent, British Airways down 3 percent and Scandinavian SAS down 2.4 percent.

Global leaders in logistics, FedEx, UPS and DHL have been forced to significantly cut shipments. DHL announced it was forced to create a new logistic net through the airports that are still open as the Leipzig airport, its transportation hub, is closed.

Lev Khasis, CEO of Russia’s food retailer, X5 Retail Group, said: “If the air service problems drag on, some deliveries like various kinds of fresh fish will be impossible”.

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