Ash cloud disrupts NZ flights

NEIL REID AND MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 12:21 12/06/2011

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Ash from Chile’s dramatic volcano has entered New Zealand air space, forcing Qantas and Jetstar to cancel flights today.

Qantas confirmed it has cancelled 22 flights to and from New Zealand and Tasmania.

A Qantas spokeswoman said all 14 flights in and out of Tasmania on Sunday had been cancelled.

Eight flights between Australia and Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown had also been grounded, she said.

The cancellations affect about 1500 passengers and Qantas is attempting to contact everyone ahead of their scheduled flight.

"We are doing our best to do a call out to everyone that we can," the spokeswoman said.

Jetstar has cancelled a number domestic flights between Christchurch and Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown, and Auckland and Queenstown today.

It has also cancelled some trans-Tasman flights, between Christchurch and Sydney, Christchurch and Melbourne, and Queenstown and Melbourne.

Air New Zealand has not cancelled or delayed any of its flights. Spokeswoman Tracy Mills said the national carrier did not expect any cancellations to its domestic or international services.

But the company would adjust flight routes and altitudes to ensure aircraft remained clear of any ash, she said.

The ash is from the CordonCaulle volcano in southern Chile which erupted on June 4 with initial ash plumes reaching 15,240 metres.

Hundreds of travellers from Christchurch had their travel plans disrupted because of the cancelled flights, with queues of people forming at Christchurch International Airport trying to rebook flights.

Phil and Belinda Knight, from Sydney, were due to fly home today with Qantas after a week-long holiday around the South Island.

Phil Knight said they had rebooked on a flight tomorrow and were hoping that did not get cancelled as well.

"It's going to happen. I just hope it does not go on for too long because that could be pretty interesting."

It is a public holiday in Australia tomorrow, so the pair would not miss any work.

The ash last night produced an extremely red sunset over Invercargill last night.

WeatherWatch.co.nz said its Invercargill reporter Malcolm Gayfer described the sunset as "deep red" and not normal.

WeatherWatch.co.nz says ash from the volcano will be spiralling clockwise around Antarctica at a very high altitude. 

"Our weather often comes from the south west and in this case the ash cloud on other side of the Pacific Ocean appears to have spiralled around the bottom of the globe and is coming in from the west or south west" says head weather analyst Philip Duncan.

Flights throughout South America have been grounded following the eruption of the Cordon Caulle volcano. At least 15 airports in Argentina are closed, leaving thousands of would-be travellers grounded.

The Civil Aviation Authority says new guidelines will be issued to airlines and pilots in New Zealand airspace, with the plumes expected to be at cruising levels for both jet and turboprop aircraft – 6000m to 10,600m.

Air traffic routes over the South Island, Christchurch to Australia, and between Australia, New Zealand and South America are the most likely to be affected, the CAA said.

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Air New Zealand says it will adjust flight routes and altitudes as needed, ensuring planes stayed clear of the ash cloud.

As of last night, it did not expect delays or cancellations to its domestic or international services as a result of the ash.

The MetService confirmed last night it was actively tracking the ash cloud. It will co-ordinate with airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority about the movement of the ash.

The MetService runs one of nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Service centres globally, with its catchment covering a large part of the South Pacific, from the South Pole to the equator, and from halfway across the Tasman Sea to more than halfway to Chile.

MetService weather ambassador Bob McDavitt has written about the "aviation hazard" that volcanic ash poses on the service's website.

"Fine, corrosive and abrasive, ash can coat aircraft wings, block speed sensors and air filters, sandblast flight-deck windscreens and aircraft lights, and form glass-like coatings inside engines that damage moving parts and can cause engine failure," McDavitt wrote.

"Such potentially serious and expensive damage is best prevented by avoiding flying through ash altogether."

As Cordon Caulle continues to spew ash into the stratosphere, it is believed that the huge ash cloud will hover in New Zealand airspace for at least a week.

The eruption – and flight warnings – come 14 months after air traffic was grounded throughout Europe after the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Winds carried the ash cloud throughout Europe, closing airspace for nearly a week.

David Frampton snapped a striking photo of Mount Taranaki on his flight from Wellington to Auckland around 7.30am today and posted it to Twitter.

He described the sky as "looking crazy".

"We were flying at a lower altitude than normal due to the ash, and the haze in the air was definitely thicker than normal."

* Have you taken any photos of the ash cloud? Send them to us here.

- Stuff

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