Over 120,000 passengers in Australia affected by ash cloud

13:08, June 21, 2011      

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More than 120,000 passengers on Tuesday have their travel plans disrupted, as Australian airlines canceled flights in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Canberra, Adelaide and Hobart due to the returned Chilean volcanic ash cloud.

Australia is bracing for further disruptions as the ash cloud from Chilean volcano circles the Earth for the second time and reached over eastern Australia on Tuesday morning.

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

The lingering cloud forced Virgin Australia to announce the cancellation of all of the airline's flights from Australia's two busiest airports, Sydney and Melbourne, from 4:00 p.m. (AEST) on Tuesday.

Virgin has also canceled flights to and from Newcastle, Hobart and Launceston from 4:00 p.m.

Meanwhile, Qantas and Jetstar suspended services from Sydney from 3:00 p.m., and Jetstar also axed some Melbourne to Perth flights.

Melbourne-based Tiger Airways canceled all flights for the day.

Qantas and Virgin Australia also axed flights to and from Adelaide for the remainder of Tuesday, and the two airlines suspended flights to and from Canberra from noon and 1:00 p.m., respectively.

All other international flights after 3:00 p.m. from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth have been canceled.

According to Virgin spokeswoman Danielle Keighery, Virgin's domestic cancellations alone affect 170 flights and 120,000 people.

"The ash plume is at a very low level. Last week we canceled operations where the plume was low, and we are seeing that again," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

"We are hopeful it won't last long, but it is a moving feast."

On the other hand, there have been conflicting views on the likely ongoing impact the ash cloud will have on flights.

Airservices Australia spokesman Matt Wardell said the current cloud is expected to have a significantly greater impact on air travel than last week's.

"We are expecting this to be a much more significant event for the air traffic network in terms of the delays it's going to cause and potentially the amount of time it's hanging around," he told ABC News on Tuesday.

However, Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Center head Andrew Tupper said the ash cloud should thin out and move on quickly.

"It's moving quite quickly, we're expecting the filaments of ash to get to the east coast by this evening, most of the bulk of it is still in the Southern Ocean," he said.

"We have to watch closely to see if it takes the northern route or the southern route and that depends on how this low pressure system moves."

Last week, the ash cloud has affected flights in Australia and New Zealand for four days, with more than 70,000 passengers affected with the cancellation of flights.

Source: Xinhua
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