No ash delays expected this week


Volcanic ash over South Africa is not likely to cause further air travel disruption this week, although backlogs could cause delays, the Airports Company SA (Acsa) and the Air Traffic & Navigation Services (ATNS) say.

Business Day newspaper reports flights to and from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London were suspended Saturday night and yesterday morning because of an ash cloud emanating from the Puyehue volcanic eruption in Chile. Ash from the eruption has already affected air travel in Argentina, SA, Brazil, southern Australia and New Zealand. The ash cloud also disrupted President Jacob Zuma ‘s plans to travel to Beaufort West, where he was set to thank community volunteers for helping secure the ANC’s municipal election victory, the paper added.

ATNS spokeswoman Anna Sanfilippo said the ash was being carried by a cold front up the coast from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, posing a threat to aircraft, while inland the risk to air travel was low to medium and decreasing.

SA Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Jeffrey Motshoba said the ash cloud did not pose sufficient risk to cause the authority to shut down SA’s airspace and the decision to cancel flights came from the airlines themselves. Motshoba said airlines, including South African Airways (SAA), had opted not to fly at night due to the difficulty of ascertaining the thickness of the ash cloud and therefore the risk to aircraft.

SAA grounded several flights between the Eastern and Western Cape, and one flight from Johannesburg to London, while low-cost airline Kulula cancelled two flights on Saturday and delayed two flights on Sunday. Comair joint-CEO Gidon Novick said he anticipated no further disruptions this week.

The air traffic and navigation body said it was receiving data from the Toulouse Volcanic Ash Action Centre in France which monitors the risk of volcanic ash to aviation. At the weekend volcanic ash over SA was evident from the surface to 6100m and in some places up to nearly 10 700m.

Acsa spokesman Solomon Makgale said operations at all affected airports had returned to normal but delays were being experienced due to the backlog of delayed and cancelled flights. Makgale added the cold front could bring delays of its own as it was causing heavy rains and strong winds.