An ash cloud from a volcano in Chile has wreaked havoc on Australian flights and prompted the country’s leading airline Qantas to cancel flights to and from the nation’s biggest airports on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Virgin Australia was also cancelling domestic flights in and out of Sydney and other key cities from Tuesday afternoon.
Qantas spokeswoman Olivia Wirth said flights would remain grounded all day on Wednesday to and from the biggest airports of Sydney and Melbourne, and to the national capital, Canberra, Reuters reports.
She said the cancellations affected more than 200 flights and 20,000 passengers each day. International flights due to land in Sydney late on Tuesday would be diverted to Brisbane, she said.
“We do expect upcoming delays over the next 24 to 48 hours,” Wirth told reporters, adding Qantas was receiving updates on the ash cloud every three hours.
Ash from a volcano in Chile’s Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain that erupted on June 4 after decades lying dormant has forced the sporadic cancellation of hundreds of flights, because of the potential for ash to damage jet engines.
The impact has been felt particularly in neighbouring Argentina and Uruguay, but has also disrupted flights in New Zealand and Australia.
The cloud first affected flights in Australia and New Zealand 10 days ago, with flights between Australia and New Zealand grounded and Qantas cancelling flights out of Melbourne, Adelaide and from the island state of Tasmania.
ASH SEEN CLEARING LATE WEDNESDAY
Earlier on Tuesday, Qantas said it diverted flights from Johannesburg and Singapore to Brisbane, delayed two flights due from Los Angeles, and cancelled six flights between Australia and New Zealand. Sydney Airport said flights to Honolulu and Bali had also been cancelled.
Qantas also moved forward two flights to London and one to Frankfurt to get them out before 3 p.m. (6 a.m. BST), another spokesman said.
Qantas and Virgin Australia cancelled all flights to and from Adelaide all day on Tuesday, while both airlines stopped flights to and from Canberra from around midday.
Virgin said it had suspended all services out of Melbourne from Tuesday afternoon, while Qantas cancelled flights between Perth and Melbourne.
Australia’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre said the ash cloud had travelled more than 4,000 km (2,500 m) in 24 hours and had been driven across southeastern Australia by strong southerly winds, but was forecast to clear by late Wednesday.
“The ash is still clearly visible on satellite imagery, and has been observed by a number of pilots flying at lower altitudes,” the advisory centre’s director, Andrew Tupper, said.
“The volcanic ash cloud is now more than two weeks old, and generally between 8 and 13 km (26,000 to 42,000 ft) in altitude, with the leading edge at an altitude of approximately 10 km (32,000 ft),” he said.