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Airlines divided on volcanic ash flights


BY JAMES WILKINSON

Australasia’s major airlines are split on operating services to and from areas affected by ash from Chile’s Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano.


Qantas upgraded a number of Melbourne-Sydney
flights today to Boeing 747-400s to help
move stranded passengers between cities

While Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Pacific Blue are all operating domestic and trans-Tasman routes as scheduled, Qantas and Jetstar still have flights grounded on all services to and from Adelaide, Tasmania and New Zealand today (June 14).

Tiger Airways also cancelled a number of services today, including flights on the following sectors: Adelaide-Melbourne, Avalon-Perth, Melbourne-Perth, Adelaide-Sydney, Sydney-Gold Coast and Melbourne-Hobart.

Qantas said flights would remain grounded in affected areas due to safety reasons.

“Qantas will continue to monitor the movement of the ash cloud and assess its impact on flight operations as the situation develops,” the airline said in a statement released this morning.

“The Qantas Group’s approach to flying is based on the highest standards of safety and risk assessment. Safety is always put before schedule.

“Passengers with bookings on cancelled services will be contacted and rebooked on alternative services. Qantas will seek to schedule supplementary services to help clear the backlog.”

In a separate statement, Jetstar said the airline was “exploring every option possible to recover affected passengers, including scheduling extra flights as soon as possible to do so.

“The safety of our passengers and crew is Jetstar’s number one priority. Jetstar will not be flying into airspace that remains affected by the ash cloud until we are confident that it is safe to do so.

“Our approach to flying is based on the Qantas Group’s high standards of safety and risk assessment. As a Qantas Group airline, Jetstar, like Qantas, has in place the same monitoring and assessment processes and Jetstar continues to review the status of its operations to affected ports.”

Air New Zealand, meanwhile, is operating all scheduled domestic New Zealand and trans-Tasman flights today.

The airline has operated around 1,000 flights and carried more than 50,000 passengers since the ash arrived in New Zealand airspace from the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano on Sunday.

Air New Zealand General Manager Airline Operations and Safety and Chief Pilot, Captain David Morgan said has been able to operate all scheduled flights by “working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and Metservice to ensure flight paths continue to avoid areas of ash”.

“The authorities are providing excellent information about the ash which is at high altitude and very predictable in its movement,” he said. “By adjusting cruising altitudes of our aircraft we are able to continue to safely deliver customers to their destinations.

“Lower cruising altitudes mean we need to burn around 10% more fuel than normal, but we don’t believe that’s a reason to stop flying when there are perfectly safe flight paths available below the level of the ash.

“The travelling public will be pleased to know that almost all carriers including Air New Zealand, Virgin Blue, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Air Asia X, Air Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and others are today operating international services to and from New Zealand.

“Air New Zealand will not fly through ash and will continue to take guidance from CAA and the Metservice to ensure we can carry passengers where safe routes and altitudes are available.”

Virgin Australia announced at 4:50am this morning (Sydney time) that the airline would operate normal schedules today, along with a number of additional services to clear a backlog of passengers.

“Our Volcanic Ash Management Team continues to work closely with the Bureau of Meteorology and the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in order to ensure determinations regarding our fleet operations are made on accurate and up to the minute data, as safety is always our highest priority,” said Virgin Australia Group Executive Sean Donohue.

The airline said “the majority of guests whose travel plans were disrupted during the past 48 hours have been provided alternative flights, with a small backlog of remaining guests expected to be provided alternative flights today”.

Additional Virgin Australia flights have been implemented between Sydney and Melbourne and Melbourne and Hobart to carry impacted guests.