Ash grounds Auckland flights again

01:42, Jun 22 2011

Auckland International Airport was almost deserted this morning as the Chilean ash cloud grounded flights again.

The cloud caused chaos at the airport last week, but this time airline staff appeared to have the situation under control and most passengers had been warned of cancellations before they arrived.

More than 40 trans-Tasman flights and about a dozen domestic flights have been cancelled from Auckland's domestic and international terminals.

JetStar, Qantas, British Airways, American Airways and Pacific Blue have cancelled flights while Air New Zealand continues to fly.

Passenger Howard Hurst had been scheduled to leave for his home in Hawaii yesterday but that flight was cancelled. He came to the airport today on a whim, hoping he might be able to get on a flight earlier than Tuesday next week.

"We were supposed to fly out to Honolulu yesterday and that was cancelled. We were put on a flight for Thursday but the weather report says it looks like the dust cloud is going to be over New Zealand tomorrow. The next flight out to Honolulu is next Tuesday."

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He said they could book new flights with Air New Zealand but after three weeks holiday they could not afford it and would have to wait it out.

"We've been in New Zealand for the last three weeks. We have jobs and pets at home and responsibilities. We're pushing the budget a bit so we're looking at flights of about 4000 bucks to get to Honolulu and that's way out of our budget."

Kyle Edgar and Sarah Morrissey have been in Auckland for a month on a student exchange programme from the United States. They were due to fly out to Sydney this morning but are stranded in Auckland.

"We're supposed to be in Australia for two weeks but we're not making it there. It looks like all the flights are being cancelled so we might be here another two days.

"Luckily we've been in Auckland earlier in the month so we know the town."

Elizabeth Begalka was due to fly out to Vancouver via Los Angeles. While this flight was cancelled, she was one of the lucky ones and was put on a flight via Hong Kong instead.

Geoff Wilkins and his family were on their way to Bali via Sydney but will miss their connecting flight if they cannot leave Auckland today.

"It's a family holiday and we've been looking forward to it for a while but it doesn't look like we're going to get there. Our flight [to Bali] is at six o'clock Australian time so we're pretty much stuffed.

"It's not the greatest start but you know, we've got to make do and there's not much we can do about it."

AIRLINES TAKE ADVICE FROM AUTHORITIES

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

Qantas has suspended all trans-Tasman services until further notice and Jetstar has cancelled all trans-Tasman flights and domestic New Zealand flights for the rest of the day.

Jetstar will provide an update this evening on tomorrow's services. 

Pacific Blue, Aerolineas Argentinas, and Lan Chile also cancelled flights.

CLOUD EXPECTED OVER NORTH ISLAND TONIGHT

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

CAA spokesman Bill Sommer said the cloud was expected to approach the west of the North Island about 6am today.

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

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

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