Ash cloud grounds flights across Australia

Major airports face being shut down for 48 hours as ash cloud from Chilean volcano drifts across southern hemisphere.

    Australia is bracing for further disruptions as the ash cloud circles the Earth for a second time [AFP]

    An ash cloud from a volcano in Chile is disrupting Australian air travel once again, with Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia cancelling domestic flights in and out of Sydney and other key cities, disrupting the travel plans of more than 120,000 passengers.

    The ash cloud, which is circling the earth for a second time, is expected to reach South Australia by early Wednesday morning after drifting 9,656 kilometres across the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

    International flights were mostly operating but some flights were being diverted, delayed or cancelled,  Australian flag carrier Qantas said on Tuesday.

    The decision followed the airline, along with Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger, halting services to Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide on Tuesday, stranding tens of thousands of passengers.

    Flight cancellations

    "We estimate that we will be cancelling in excess of 200 flights on Wednesday," Olivia Wirth, a Qantas spokeswoman, said. "The experts say we simply won't be able to operate in this situation."

    The cloud, created by the eruption of the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano high in the Andes more than two weeks ago, has looped the globe and made its way back to Australia.

    Ash from Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano in Chile spread thousands of miles to Australia and New Zealand [AFP]

    It first entered Australian and New Zealand airspace just over a week ago, causing some airlines to ground all flights to affected areas while others chose to divert their planes under and around the plume.

    The base of the cloud is below 6,000 metres on Tuesday, lower than last week's floor of 8,100 metres and considered too low by domestic airlines to safely fly under.

    Qantas diverted flights from Johannesburg and Singapore to Brisbane, and delayed two flights due from Los Angeles, and cancelled six flights between Australia and New Zealand, the airline said, while Sydney Airport said flights to Honolulu and Bali had also been cancelled.

    Qantas also moved forward two flights to London and one to Frankfurt to get them out before 3pm local time, (0500 GMT), another spokesman said.

    Qantas and Virgin Australia cancelled all flights to and from Adelaide all day on Tuesday, while both airlines stopped flights to and from Canberra from around midday.

    Virgin said it was suspending all services out of Melbourne from 4pm local time, while Qantas cancelled flights between Perth and Melbourne.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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