The Icelandic volcano eruption caused chaos for millions of Brits: planes were grounded; travellers were stranded all over the world; and there was even the
deployment of warships by the Royal Navy.
The impact of volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajokull reached far and wide for travellers but also affected just about every business sector including fuel retailers.
There were some winners and some losers. Those who benefited most were retailers with sites near the main ports being used to ferry travellers in and out of the country, especially at Dover.
David Williams, manager at independent retailer George Hammond’s Dover South site, said there were huge queues in the forecourt and shop during the first few days of the disruption.
He said: "We would normally hit a peak over Easter and then it would settle down. But that didn’t happen at all. I can’t believe how many coaches there have been coming in.
"We’re smack on the seafront here. I presume the coaches have been coming in to pick people up from the boats, then refuelling before they set off on their journeys. And, of course, this has an impact on the shop side too as everybody on the coaches wants to get off to get something to eat and drink."
Williams estimated that fuel sales were up by about a third on what is usual for the time of year, with 48,000 litres alone sold at the site on one of the most hectic days Monday, April 19.
He added: "It’s a big increase, and it was about the same for the day before and the day before that was even busier."
At Sewell Retail, which has a site near the Port of Hull, overall fuel volumes for the group were up and sites remained particularly busy for the time of year. According to the company’s managing director, Patrick Sewell, week-on-week fuel volume was up 5% for the week ending April 18, which included four days of the flight disruption. He added: "The week ending April 18 was the busiest week of the year. I’ve heard a lot of stories about people arriving on ferries nearby but I don’t know if this has affected fuel sales all I know is that volumes were definitely up, and that’s at a time when fuel prices have been higher than they’ve ever been."
Meanwhile, retailers with sites near airports saw the opposite effect on sales. RMI Petrol chairman, Brian Madderson, said fuel volumes at some sites were down by as much as 80% as travellers stayed away.
BP said its site at Stansted Airport was very quiet during the flight disruption, with "a massive drop in volumes" at both its sites at Gatwick North and South. A BP spokesman added: "The first day of air disruption remained fairly busy people were still heading to the terminal and filling up with fuel. But after that the managers said it became like a ghost town.
"The only people coming in were those who lived or worked around the airport."
He said that during the usually busy 6am to 9am period at Gatwick South, customer numbers were down by about a third.
The Roadside Group reported fuel volume at its new Shell site at Newcastle Airport had also dropped quite dramatically while the flight ban was in operation.
But the company, number 25 in the Top 50 Indies list 2010, decided to use the incident to its advantage in a bid to test the strength of its non-airport trade. Roadside Group director, Visvanathan Ramakrishnan, said he had been quite pleased with the results. He explained: "The site is right at the mouth of the airport but it is also very close to the A696, which is one of the main routes out of Newcastle. We wanted to assess how dependent on airport traffic the site was. It’s only been open since last June so obviously it takes a while to build up your customer base. Our fuel volumes were about 30-35% down while the flights were cancelled, which means that we were affected, but we were also quite pleased with the results because we discovered that the site could still be sustained without the airport. There’s obviously enough passing trade and local traffic.
"We could never have run such a test without the volcanic ash, so we decided to use the situation to our advantage!"
Manor Service Stations also saw fuel volumes take a hit at its two sites located at Terminals 1 and 2 at Manchester Airport. The company decided to keep the sites open but to run them with just a skeleton staff. Meanwhile, the company’s owner Peter Brough was one of the many passengers stranded abroad he and his family were on holiday in Disneyland in the US when the volcanic ash stopped all flights.
Another retailer unable to get home was Jonathan James who was on a 10-day holiday in Dubai with his family and friends. Speaking to Forecourt Trader on the day the flight ban was lifted, Jonathan said his family was waiting at the airport and hoped to board one of the next planes out. "The travel advice at one point was that we wouldn’t be flying home until at least May 7, which was a bit of a worry. There were several events coming up that I didn’t want to miss, including the ACS conference."
Shane Thakrar, head of business development at HKS Retail, was in China on business and said he was hoping to be able to catch his scheduled return flight.
And finally, Chevron decided to postpone its Retailer Advantage Trip to Dubai because of the travel chaos. UK retailers were due to fly out to the event on April 22 but the company felt it safer to make other arrangements. A Chevron spokeswoman said the company was working on rescheduling the event, probably for September.
Hundreds of offshore oil rig workers were unable to get to or from work after helicopter flights over the North Sea were recalled because of the volcanic ash.
The disruption started on the first day of the UK flight restrictions and stayed in place until April 21.
ExxonMobil was among the companies hit by the helicopter ban a spokeswoman stressed that there had been no adverse impact on either production or refinery operations.
l The eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano is estimated to have cost airlines an estimated £130million a day in revenue due to the flight ban.
l Up to 150,000 Britons were believed to have been stranded abroad.
l On April 17, nearly 17,000 flights to and from Europe were cancelled out of about 22,000 on a normal day.
l The Royal Navy sent three warships to France and Spain to collect stranded Brits while the Celebrity Eclipse cruise ship put its inaugural celebrations on hold to rescue tourists from Spain.