Ash grounds flights again

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 08:07 22/06/2011

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Thousands of passengers flying in and out of Auckland face lengthy delays as the ash cloud from the Chilean volcano grounds airlines again.

Today, more than 40 trans-Tasman flights and about a dozen domestic flights have been cancelled from Auckland's domestic and international airports.

The airlines affected at this stage are JetStar, Qantas, British Airways, American Airways and Pacific Blue. Air New Zealand continues to fly.

The Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano began erupting on June 4 and grounded many New Zealand domestic and trans-Tasman flights last week. The Civil Aviation Authority says the cloud currently lies to the west of the country and will blanket New Zealand by this afternoon.

On its website, Qantas says services to and from Auckland will be suspended from 9am local time and to and from Wellington, Queenstown and Christchurch from 10am until further notice.

Jetstar says all international and domestic flights to New Zealand are cancelled until midday today. A further update will be provided this morning.

The situation is being closely monitored by the Civil Aviation Authority and the MetService, which are providing information and advice to airlines.

According to the Auckland Airport website all domestic Jetstar flights to and from Auckland have been cancelled up until at least 4pm today. At this stage 12 Jetstar flights have been cancelled.

A JetAsia flight from Singapore scheduled to arrive at 9.55am has been cancelled as have Qantas, American Airways and British Airways flights from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney to Auckland. JetStar and Pacific Blue have also cancelled flights from Melbourne and Sydney.

The ash is now passing over Australia for a second time and New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Bill Sommer said it was expected to approach the west of the North Island about 6am today.

Last week Air New Zealand introduced more rigorous inspections of its planes because of the ash. A spokesman said the airline adopted similar measures to those taken when the Iceland volcano erupted in April last year, by randomly checking aircraft for ash.

In addition to the regular plane checks before and after every flight, Air New Zealand would randomly inspect the engines with cameras.

Civil Aviation Authority meteorological manager Peter Lechner said the cloud was currently lying to the west of New Zealand and would cover the entire country by this afternoon.

It was possible the cloud would lap the globe and cross over New Zealand a third time, Lechner said.

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"It will disperse eventually - the dispersion process is underway but whether it comes around for a third time we can't tell yet."

When the cloud did disperse, it would do so horizontally, stretching out rather than falling through the atmosphere, Lechner said.

- Stuff

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