Volcanic ash causing flight chaos

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Volcanic ash causing flight chaos
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Kununurra and Darwin airports have closed as a massive ash cloud from an Indonesian volcanic eruption spreads across northern Australia.

Flights could be affected for days as a vast amounts of ash spews from the Indonesian volcano, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss says.

Sangeang Api, a volcano off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, has erupted at least three times since Friday afternoon.

The cloud has reached the Kimberley coast and all flights in and out of Kununurra Airport have been cancelled today.

A spokeswoman for Perth Airport said the cancellations included Qantas flight QF792 to Darwin and Airnorth flight TL341 to Kununurra.

A Qantas flight from Perth to Alice Springs has also been cancelled as have six other flights in and out of Kununurra.

International services, including flights to Bali, were unaffected, the spokeswoman said.

Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre manager at the Bureau of Meteorology in Darwin, Emile Jansons, said ash and sulfur dioxide were currently drifting over the Kimberley.

He said while Bali was only 350km to the east of the volcano, winds were blowing the ash away from the popular tourist island.

“We can clearly see on the satellite imagery that there’s ash over the Kimberley at the moment and there’s strong sulphur dioxide levels over the top end,” he said.

“Whereas we can clearly see there’s no ash or sulphur dioxide heading over Bali or Denpasar.”

Mr Jansons said the ash posed no threat to people in the Kimberley.

“Most of the ash is up above 10km, so there’s really no concern to people on the ground,” he said.

“We’re not expecting any ash fall whatsoever and you aren’t really likely to see anything unusual. A bit of haze is all you’d expect.”

He said he was not surprised that airlines were continuing their services to Bali.

““It depends entirely on the airlines safety risk assessment, but the winds are really quite strong towards the south-east, so the ash is blowing away from Bali,” he said.

“The volcano’s only about 350km to the east of Bali but it’s unlikely that any ash will drift towards Denpasar.”

Flights to and from Darwin International Airport have been cancelled on Saturday as the ash cloud spreads across the Top End and towards Alice Springs.

Mr Truss says the ash cloud sits between 6km and 13km in the atmosphere and is sweeping southwest over northern Australia.

“Depending on wind and other weather conditions, the ash has the potential to affect flights to and from other airports, including Brisbane, during coming days. This is currently being fully assessed,” he said.

Airservices Australia, the nation's air navigation authority, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Bureau of Meteorology are all investigating the cloud, Mr Truss said.

“Depending on wind and other weather conditions, the ash has the potential to affect flights to and from other airports, including Brisbane, during coming days.

This is currently being fully assessed,” he said.

“Passengers are advised to check with their airlines for further information.”

Airservices Australia has begun diverting international flights around the ash cloud.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority says volcanic ash can affect all aircraft with piston or jet engines at all flight levels.

Fine particles of pulverised rock consisting mainly of silica contained in volcanic ash clouds can be highly abrasive and damage aircraft engines, structures and windows. “Commercial air operators and private pilots planning to fly in this area should conduct a safety risk assessment before any flights,” a spokesman said.

“CASA recommends flights are not conducted into areas with visible volcanic ash clouds.

“Flights into areas with low levels of ash contamination should only be conducted after a safety risk assessment has been carried out.”

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