Flight chaos in Australia as ash cloud returns

Hundreds of flights were grounded Tuesday in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra as the Chilean ash cloud returned to Australia with a vengeance, with the chaos due to worsen over coming days.

The cloud, created by the eruption of the Puyehue volcano high in the Andes more than two weeks ago, has looped the globe and made its way back Down Under to wreak fresh havoc.

State broadcaster ABC said the travel plans of more than 120,000 people had been thrown into disarray - with an industry group saying it was Australia's worst air travel disruption for more than 20 years.

"The ash cloud is denser and larger than that which caused widespread disruption to flights last week," said Airservices Australia, adding that the plume was hovering between 20,000 and 40,000 feet (6-13 kilometres).

"It is also predicted to linger longer over southeast Australia. It is spread in a large band below the Australian continent and is predicted to continue to move to the northeast and east in coming days."

National flag carrier Qantas suspended services to and from the South Australian capital Adelaide as well as Canberra and Sydney - Australia's busiest airport.

Qantas later announced that all flights into and out of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra would also be grounded on Wednesday, including international routes.

Virgin soon followed suit, although its Melbourne services will be reviewed at 1.00pm (0200 GMT) and flights into and out of Sydney and Canberra at 4.00pm (0500 GMT).

"We estimate that we will be cancelling in excess of 200 flights on Wednesday," Qantas spokeswoman Olivia Wirth told reporters, adding that international arrivals and departures would be delayed until Thursday.

"The experts say we simply won't be able to operate in this situation. This has had a significant impact in the Qantas Group, but we will always put safety before schedule."

Qantas' discount airline Jetstar also called off Adelaide and Sydney flights Tuesday while Tiger Airways grounded its entire fleet, with no services anywhere.

Virgin suspended flights to Adelaide, Canberra and major hubs Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Tasmania.

Ash poses a significant threat to aircraft because once sucked into engines it can be transformed into molten glass by the high temperatures and potentially cause an engine to fail.

John Lee, chief executive of Tourism and Transport Forum, an industry body, said it was the largest disruption to Australia's aviation industry since a 1989 pilots' strike.

"We anticipate the total impact to the tourism industry will be something over Aus$10 million. It could be as high as Aus$13 or Aus$14 million but it's probably around Aus$11.5 million per day," Lee told AFP.

"It is a very substantial business disruption."

Meteorologists said that while the ash had thinned during its travels around the world it was still clearly visible on satellite images and was moving at an altitude where aircraft generally cruise.

"It is the same cloud that has gone right around the world. It is still dense and it is still hazardous to aviation," said a spokesman at the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre.

The cloud first entered Australian and New Zealand airspace just over a week ago, causing some airlines to ground all flights to affected areas while others chose to divert their planes under and around the plume.

Flights were also affected across Argentina and Uruguay.

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre's director Andrew Tupper said the plume was a rare occurrence and a third loop back to Australia was not likely.

"A third time round would be unprecedented," he said, adding that it was a testing time for airlines.

"It is a very complex problem for the airlines to manage. Obviously they have to take a conservative approach."

mp/ajc/slb

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project