Chilean ash cloud disrupts New Zealand-Australian flights

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 13, 2011 11:48 PM
Chilean ash cloud disrupts New Zealand-Australian flights

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A cloud of ash from an erupting volcano in Chile has drifted over the Atlantic and Indian oceans to lie over southern parts of New Zealand and Australia, disrupting air travel.

Australian carrier Qantas Airways said it had canceled 22 flights on Sunday while Air New Zealand said it was flying at lower altitudes and different courses to avoid the ash, and did not anticipate any disruption.

The volcano in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain in Chile has been erupting for the past week, throwing air travel in South America into chaos, as it spewed ash high into the atmosphere.

Qantas said it had canceled flights to the island state of Tasmania and destinations in New Zealand's South Island.

"We believe it is just too dangerous," spokeswoman Emma Kearns told Reuters.

Air New Zealand said its aircraft would fly at the lower altitude of 18,000 feet to remain below the ash cloud or else take a different flight path to avoid it.

The fine particles of ash, which pose a danger to aircraft bodies and engines, were carried east by the prevailing winds to sit between 20,000 and 35,000 feet across southern parts of Australia and New Zealand, said Steve Sherburn, a vulcanologist at New Zealand's Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences.

The eruption, he said, was particularly strong and able to keep throwing ash particles in to the atmosphere.

"If the eruption keeps going on, it could affect us for some time," Sherburn said.

(Reporting by Adrian Bathgate; Editing by Ron Popeski)