The eruption of a volcano last week in Iceland, and the ensuing cloud of ash that shut down airports across Europe, has thrown a wrench into U.S. vendors’ plans to attend industry shows abroad.

While air travel resumed yesterday after the volcano quit – for now at least – spewing ash, there’s the possibility that another volcano in Iceland could erupt, as well. Next week, the IMS World Forum kicks off in Barcelona, while the Anga Cable Show starts May 4 in Cologne, Germany.

The organizers of the Anga show tried to soothe attendees’ concerns with a press release today that carried the following headline: “European Airspace completely open – Volcanic Ash Cloud has dissolved.” Putting aside the second volcano for a moment, which has a history of erupting after its neighbor, there is an enormous backlog of flights across Europe. According to an Associated Press story from yesterday, 95,000 flights were cancelled last week, so even with air travel resuming, it’s not exactly blue skies and sunbeams at European airports.

While the literal fallout from the volcano’s eruption has been a boon to Skype and Cisco’s telepresence video conferencing business, vendors have been scrambling.

Yesterday, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based RGB Networks was formulating its Anga game plan. Most of RGB’s show-related equipment is coming out of its U.K. office, and if traveling proves to be too difficult for its U.S.-based employees, the company said it will lean on European partner Divitel to provide on-site setup support at Anga.

Jim Gayton, Cedar Point Communications’ director of marketing, outlined some of the issues vendors face in an e-mail.

“We looked into routing our freight through the southern routes but ran into customs and country of destination issues,” he wrote. “Also, this has impacted worldwide freight, not just high tech, but every company that is trying to get stuff shipped is doing the same thing. We have made the decision to not ship our equipment to Anga due to the inability to guarantee arrival in time for setup. Instead, we will rely on doing our demos with equipment located in the United States.”

While Cedar Point, which is headquartered in Derry, N.H., has found a workaround to the air travel dilemma, Gayton said the challenge will be the quality of service the company gets at the convention center in Cologne.

“We have no control over it,” he wrote. “Not having equipment local to the show floor [booth] makes it difficult to troubleshoot or repair if the need arises.”

Other logistical challenges Gayton outlined included:

  • Coordinating delivery of the booth and graphics and coordinating multiple vendors
  • Getting staff to Europe from the United States
  • The prospect of having staff members stranded abroad are high if the other volcano erupts, and then there’s the additional cost of feeding and housing those employees

In the 25-plus years I have been doing this, I have never experienced this kind of long-ranging (duration and areas of impact) disruption due to a natural event,” Gayton wrote.

While larger vendors, such as Cisco, Arris or Motorola, have enough resources to have booth materials and staff both here and abroad, smaller vendors might be concerned about getting their equipment and personnel back here in time to set up for The Cable Show May 11-13 in Los Angeles.

Here’s hoping for “nothing but blue skies from now on.”