More Air NZ flights cancelled

06:36, Jun 16 2011
Red sunset
The ash cloud sunset on Saturday, with the Takitimu mountains in the background.
Red sunset
The ash cloud sunrise, from Bluff.
Red sunset
The ash cloud sunset on Saturday, looking towards the Takitimu mountains.
Red sunset
Taken from the air near Omaui.
Red sunset
The ash cloud sunset over the Talbot Street Reserve.
Red sunset
Red sky on Saturday eevening over Lake Te Anau.
Red sunset
Looking northwest from Bluff towards the Takitimu Range sunset on Saturday night with Chile volcano ash cloud.
Red sunset
The ash cloud sunset over the Talbot St Reserve, in Invercargill.

Air New Zealand is continuing to cancel flights to the South Island despite resuming a partial service to Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill this afternoon.

Ash from an erupting Chilean volcano forced the cancellation of all flights in and out of Christchurch Airport this morning, when Air New Zealand joined Qantas and Jetstar to cancel New Zealand domestic flights.

However, at 1pm, Christchurch International Airport chief executive Jim Boult said Air New Zealand had started check-in processes and was expecting to fly, domestically and internationally, this afternoon.

Departures
CANNED: The domestic departures board at the Christchurch airport this morning.

Boult said the airport was also expecting arrivals this afternoon of an Emirates flight from Sydney and an AirAsia X flight from Kuala Lumpur.

But by 5.30pm, the Air NZ website was showing seven cancellations for domestic flights out of Christchurch and nine arrivals were cancelled for the afternoon and evening.

Some Christchurch passengers, who have spent as long as 12 hours in Wellington Airport and been disappointed by several cancellations of expected flights, are now leaving the airport for hotels.

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Penny Hunter, left, and Denise Wright
Penny Hunter, left, and Denise Wright pass the time shopping while waiting for a flight to Auckland.

The afternoon's resumption of flights did not come in time for Labour leader Phil Goff, whose trip to Christchurch today was cancelled by the disruption. It also forced the IHC to postpone Friday's South Island Art Awards judging as Christchurch author and judge Margaret Mahy could not get to Dunedin.

However, speaking late this afternoon, Jetstar chief pilot Mark Rindfleish said he was ''reasonably confident'' the airline would begin operations in New Zealand on Friday.

However, the ash cloud was lower over the South Island and this would need to clear before flights to Queenstown and Christchurch resumed.

Clint Purches
Clint Purches is amongst thousands stranded at Christchurch Airport.

He said the airline was much more likely to fly to Wellington and Auckland tomorrow. ''The initial ash cloud is beginning to dissipate and move off to the east,'' he said.

At 1pm, Air New Zealand said it was able to resume some flights to the lower South Island after a new forecast.

The airline says the forecast would allow it to safely resume operations below the ash level to and from Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.

Cancelled flights on the Auckland airport information board.
NO GO: Cancelled flights on the Auckland airport information board.

However, Queenstown remained affected.

General manager of airline operations and safety and chief pilot Captain David Morgan said Air New Zealand was working with the Civil Aviation Authority and the Airways Corporation to identify safe flight paths that avoided areas of ash. 

He said delays would continue as flights resumed.

Charter planes were operating from Christchurch Airport this morning and the historic Southen DC3 flew 29 people to Wellington at 12.30pm.

Two trans-Tasman flights from Christchurch to Melbourne and Brisbane were on hold, while a Singapore Airlines flight that was due at 9.25am was diverted to Auckland.

TRAUMA COUNSELLORS STUCK IN SINGAPORE

Merivale's Cathy and Neil McPherson have been stuck in Singapore since Sunday after their Jetstar flight to Christchurch was cancelled.

Cathy McPherson said it was "impossible" to get through to the airline's call centre and they were desperate to get home after Monday's earthquakes.

"We are both counsellors and had clients booked in from Tuesday and as we are trained trauma counsellors we really need to be home at this time."

McPherson said she was going to see if travel insurance would cover a fare home with Singapore Airlines, costing about $1500 each.

About 70 other passengers trying to get from to Christchurch were also stranded with the couple since Sunday.

"This must be costing Jetstar a bomb putting us up here - we are in a deluxe room which is advertised at $240 per room, dinner is advertised at $40 per person, lunch not much cheaper and breakfast prices look expensive too. [I] presume they get reduced rates, but 70 of us have been here for four nights now."

WEDDING PLANS

Bridesmaid-to-be Megan Ashby-Peckham, who needs to be in Queenstown on Saturday for a wedding, was stranded at Auckland Airport after her 7am Christchurch flight was cancelled.

"It's a friend's wedding ... so we have to be there. We are hoping to get a decent refund, so it should cover the cost of the rental car."

She plans to fly to Wellington and rent a car to make her way to the South Island, but hasn't broken the news to the bride yet.

"We don't want to stress her too much."

Christchurch resident Nadia Campbell, who was in Auckland trying to get home from Brisbane, has been bumped off four flights since Monday.

"Once because of the earthquake and another was because of the ash," she said.

"I have a business to run down there, so I've had a few days away from that, so it's hurting. Hopefully I'll see if I can fly to Blenheim, so I can drive down."

In Christchurch, Va Ford was flying with her husband and grand-daughter for a break away from their home in eastern suburbs.

"We have rebooked for this afternoon, so we are quite calm.

"We'll just wait. We've been through so much now that well just wait."

Anne-Marie Marvin was supposed to be flying from Christchurch to meet a connecting flight in Auckland, heading to Paris.

"There's no way we're going to make it," she said. "Air New Zealand have told me it's not their problem."

"I don't live here, so I've got no house to go back to and I've got two kids with me."

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do."

Press chief reporter Glenn Conway was due to fly from Wellington to Christchurch early this morning.

Would-be passengers were understanding, but annoyed, he said, and most had followed airline advice to go home and rebook flights through call centres.

Some, including former Christchurch mayor Garry Moore, were giving up on flying and booking a ferry across the Cook Strait and driving south.

Conway said he spoke to one man who was flying to Christchurch for quake-related business insurance reasons and had to be in the city today "or things would go pear-shaped".

At Christchurch Airport, Robert Bennett, 61, said he had been caught up in another ash cloud in Chile three years ago, so this was nothing new.

"You can't do much about it."

His flight to Brisbane had been postponed, rather than cancelled, which was "giving me hope", he said.

SURPRISE BIRTHDAY PLANS

One Christchurch couple were due to fly to Brisbane today to surprise their daughter for her 21st birthday.

The couple, who did not want to be named in case it ruined the surprise, said the flight postponement was "nobody's fault", but they were worried they would miss their daughter's birthday tomorrow.

"We've got our fingers crossed [but] if we don't get away tomorrow we might have to pull the plug. We've only got four days so the window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller," the woman said.

The couple's Burwood home suffered further liquefaction and structural damage in Monday's two big earthquakes, and they had been looking forward to escaping the shaky city for a short time.

"Old mother nature's giving us a jolly old kicking this morning," said the man.

Denise Wright and Penny Hunter, from Glentunnel, said they felt frustrated about today's flight delays, but understood the airline's decision.

The pair were hoping to travel to Auckland for an 80th birthday party on Saturday, but were not told until they arrived at Christchurch Airport this morning that their flight had been cancelled.

"I could have stayed in bed," Hunter said.

"We were trying to do the automatic check-in when someone came over and said it had been cancelled. That was the first we knew of it."

Wright said because they lived so far out of Christchurch they would wait at the airport until Air New Zealand decided whether their flight to Auckland would go ahead this afternoon.

"Of course the airline can't do anything about it. I suppose I'd rather stay alive than get caught up in an ash cloud," she said.

SECOND ASH CLOUD OVER SOUTHERN ALPS

MetService said low areas of ash down to 10,000 feet (3048 metres) had covered parts of the South Island's east coast.

Air New Zealand general manager airline operations and safety, Chief Pilot Captain David Morgan, said the airline had been working closing with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and MetService since ash from Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano first arrived in New Zealand's airspace on Sunday.

The airline had worked to "avoid areas of ash, however ash at these new low levels gives us no choice but to cancel some services this morning", he said.

"Air New Zealand will not fly through ash."

It would monitor the situation and continue to work with CAA and MetService.

It had been flying trans-Tasman routes at a lower altitude to avoid ash cloud, and had operated about 1000 flights since the ash arrived above New Zealand on Sunday.

But yesterday, the airline was forced to cancel 11 flights, after "increased volcanic ash activity in the south of the South Island", a spokeswoman said.

The flights were all to or from Dunedin.

Three Air Nelson and three Mt Cook Airline flights were also cancelled.

CAA meteorological manager Peter Lechner said a second ash cloud has lowered across the east coast of the South Island to about 3048m from about 4572m.

"That compromises the ability of heavier airline aircraft to operate safely in the vicinity of the Southern Alps."

 "You have to maintain a certain distance both laterally and vertically from the highest point of land. The Southern Alps are relatively close to the Pacific Ocean. That is sufficient to compromise aircraft operations."

A small aircraft needs to cruise between 5486.4m to 6705.6m, and a jet aircraft about 8534.4m to 9753.6m, he said.

Affected Qantas and Jetstar passengers could get a full refund, defer travel, or change airport after the airlines yesterday cancelled trans-Tasman and New Zealand domestic flights until 2pm today.

Jetstar said in a statement it would not be flying into airspace affected by the ash cloud until it was confident it was safe to do so.

"The safety of our passengers, our people and our operations is always Jetstar's number one priority."

The disruptions and cancellations have left thousands of frustrated travellers stranded on both sides of the Tasman.

- The Press and Stuff