Australian airlines resume flights as ash cloud dissipates

Reuters

By Morag MacKinnon

PERTH (Reuters) - Australian airlines forced to cancel flights due to a volcanic ash cloud from Indonesia’s Sangeang Api volcano resumed flying on Sunday as the plume cleared.

With the threat to Australian airspace now abating, the continuing low-level eruption of the volcano in the Sunda Islands in southern Indonesia may pose a threat to the airspace around Bali in the coming days, the agency tasked with monitoring ash in that airspace told Reuters.

“With the volcano continuing to erupt, we can still see a significant amount of ash around the volcano at the moment,” Emile Jansons, manager of the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre told Reuters.

“Our biggest concern at the moment is that the boundary of the ash cloud is not very far away from Bali and if there is another larger eruption then the ash could move and affect that airspace.”

A large eruption of Sangeang Api on Friday sent an ash cloud high into the atmosphere that moved across northern Australia, causing the cancellation of some flights between Australia and southeast Asia and all domestic flights operating out of Darwin airport on Saturday.

The volcano is sustaining an weak eruption and the ash cloud above it is reaching just 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) above sea level, compared to 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) on Friday, Jansons said.

Volcanic ash can be extremely dangerous to aircraft and cause engine failure or engine damage. Airlines each apply their own risk assessment criteria in deciding whether to fly.

Operations at Darwin International Airport were getting back to normal on Sunday afternoon with regional carrier Airnorth having resumed flights and the major airlines resuming mid-afternoon, spokeswoman Virginia Sanders said.

Qantas Airways Ltd tweeted that its operations in and out of Darwin had resumed and its budget carrier Jetstar also said in a statement that its services to and from Darwin were set to resume. Jetstar said it had cancelled 19 flights due to the ash cloud.

Virgin Australia Holdings said its first flight would resume at 4:30 p.m. Darwin time.

“Based on the latest advice we have received and with the forecast expected to clear in affected areas near Darwin and Denpasar, we will resume operations into and out of Darwin later this afternoon. We will also resume operations into and out of Denpasar,” Virgin said in a statement.

Indonesia’s Sunda Islands lie along the collision of two tectonic plates and are among some of the most geologically active regions in the world.

(Editing by Matt Driskill)

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