Australian airlines Qantas, Jetstar, Tiger Airways and Virgin Australia have all suspended domestic and international flights in and out of Melbourne Airport, as a plume of volcanic ash and fog drifts across the city from South America.
Virgin is the latest to suspend flights has said that “34 domestic flights and one international service would be suspended from 7pm (AEST). Virgin had been closely monitoring the situation all day,” spokesman Sean Donohue said in an issued statement.
All airlines agreed that safety to passengers was their number one piority.
Auckland NZ, has also been affected by the volcanic ash. Qantas flights in and out of Melbourne and Auckland have been grounded from 6pm. Qantas has already cancelled flights to and from Christchurch, Queenstown, Wellington and Tasmania.
A Qantas spokesperson said, “Qantas will continue to monitor the movement of the ash cloud and its impact on further operations.” It is believed that as many as 8000 passengers would be affected by the cancellations and general interruption to services.
The Chilean Puyehue volcano began erupting on June 4, with the ash plume spewing into the sky and reaching heights of above 15,240m (50,000 ft). The volcanic cloud drifted over the Antarctic southern skies last night. It is expected that the ash cloud will remain in southern Australian sky’s for the next few days because of the lack of windy conditions..
The presence of volcanic ash has also forced Air New Zealand to adjust flight routes and altitudes to avoid the plumes. New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority has warned that the ash will be at 20,000-30,000 feet, which is the cruising altitude for both jet and turboprop aircraft. The authority said New Zealand airspace may be affected for at least a week, given that the volcano was still erupting.
Air Services Australia said that the volcanic ash cloud had already reached Australian airspace and could affect air traffic services for the next few days. The authority said in a statement “While the main ash cloud is expected to pass to the south of the Australian mainland it has reached airspace in southern Tasmania, the south island of New Zealand and moved on to Melbourne this morning.”
The statement went on to say “The northern edge of the cloud is expected to reach northern Victoria, southern NSW and the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra), but it is also diffusing as the day proceeds.” The ash cloud is not expected to affect other parts of the country and should clear within a day.
Andrew Tupper, for Australia’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, said he expected the ash cloud to move towards Australia’s east coast over the next day, although the plumes were breaking apart. This would move the cloud into southern New South Wales and the ACT. “It has a very strong satellite signal and it’s right up there with the big, big eruption clouds and will keep going.” he said.
Tupper said that “Flights to and from Australia are from time to time disrupted by volcanic eruptions in the , but this was the first time in about 20 years that an ash cloud was expected to cross the continent itself. It’s a pretty major event.”
The volcanic eruptions have already prompted the cancellation of several flights across South America and the ash cloud is expected to continue on it’s path around the globe.