Chilean ash cloud hits Western Australia

CHILE’S volcanic ash cloud continues to spread, causing increasing disruption to aviation in the southern Asia Pacific region.

The eruption in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano range of the Andes began on 4 June. The cloud has spread over 9,000 km (5,600 miles) and now reached Western Australia. Jetstar, Qantas, South African Airlines, Tiger Airways and Virgin are being cautious and have cancelled international flights, although Virgin has tried to maintain services where possible by flying around or under the cloud. However, due to increased volcanic ash activity, the cloud around Perth has lowered and grown denser making even such flight changes impossible.

“The volcanic ash plume is expected to drift over Perth at an altitude [that] will prevent aircraft from safely operating,” Virgin said in a statement.

“As a result, the Virgin Australia Group of Airlines has suspended all flights into and out of Perth Airport until further notice.”

Airservices Australia – the country’s air traffic controller – says the cloud over Western Australia is spread in a band between 4,500 and 10,500 m (15,000 to 35,000 ft).

“Obviously we’re in the hands of the weather gods and wind will be the main determinant of how long the cloud remains over the Perth area and affects traffic,” said spokesman Matt Wardell.

Sally Cutter, from Australia’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, said that it was up to individual airlines to assess the risk each is prepared to take by flying through or near the cloud.

Suspended flights in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are slowing returning to normal, but Chilean government geologists have warned that more eruptions are likely in the near future.

“It is possible there will be a return to increased eruptive activity,” Chile’s National Geological and Mines Service said.

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